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More preliminary work needed before 2 traffic safety projects begin

Two local public safety projects got a big boost earlier this month when the state approved grants totaling more than $1.4 million for Homewood and Flossmoor, but residents won’t see work begin immediately.

Flossmoor Public Works Director John Brunke said phase 1 engineering has been completed on the downtown streetscape project, and the $1.2 million grant from the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program (ITEP) will enable phase 2 engineering work to proceed.

He said he expects engineering work to be completed this summer and construction work to begin next summer.

“This is a big win for Flossmoor and our downtown Central Business District,” Brunke said.

The project will not dramatically change the travel configuration downtown, keeping the teardrop-shaped island in place, but it will involve changes designed to improve pedestrian and traffic safety.

According to the most recent plan, the mailbox currently located on the west side of the island would move to Central Drive. A decorative truck apron would be added around the island, splitter islands would guide traffic into and out of the intersection and landscaping would be improved near crosswalks.

Mayor Michelle Nelson welcomed the news.

“I’m excited to see the installation of permanent infrastructure to make our downtown safer and more vibrant,” she said. “Residents have been asking for these improvements, and thanks to the efforts of our staff and the board, we now have the funds to complete the work in time for our centennial (in 2024).”

The $232,875 Homewood grant will enable the village to restructure traffic lanes on 183rd Street from Dixie Highway east to Morgan Street, changing from the current four lanes of traffic to two lanes of traffic, a center turn lane and two bicycle lanes.

Homewood Public Works Director John Schaefer said village officials will need to meet with Illinois Department of Transportation representatives to find out whether any additional preliminary work is needed. He said after that meeting he will have a better idea when the lane restructuring work might start.

Steve Buchtel, a longtime advocate for cycling and pedestrian safety, was not only pleased to learn that the lane restructuring project would be funded but was impressed with the way village officials approached the project, which was spurred by residents along 183rd Street who asked for action after a fatal crash in 2020.

“The village, and particularly public works director John Schaefer, deserve a lot of credit for the innovation and pace they’ve brought to transforming 183rd Street,” Buchtel said. “The village went from public outcry to funded project in less than three years on a really big project. As transportation projects go, this project is (world class sprinter) Usain Bolt.”

Buchtel said the key was the traffic diet test conducted by the village in May 2022 to see how the traffic diet might work in practice.

“In big, progressive cities, his modeling of a 183rd Street road diet with the traffic barrels is called ‘tactical urbanism,’ using what you have on hand, like barrels and traffic cones, to test different street configurations quickly and cheaply,” Buchtel said. “In small towns like Homewood, this could be called ‘common sense.’”

He said the model could be applied to other streets that have traffic problems, including Ridge Road, 187th Street and the rest of 183rd Street from Dixie west to Kedzie Avenue.

The traffic diet project was an option described in a traffic study by engineering firm Burns & McDonnell.

Another project included in the study was converting Gottschalk Avenue to a deadend on the north side of 183rd Street. The village also tested that option last year, but the response from residents was mixed.

Schaefer said the village is planning to conduct a new test soon that will include traffic counts on Homewood Avenue, which was not included in the first test.

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