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Homewood supports IDOT traffic-calming plan on Dixie

Looking north on Park Avenue toward the T-intersection with Dixie Highway. Homewood trustees signed off Tuesday on an IDOT plan to restructure the lanes on Dixie Highway north of the intersection. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

The traffic lanes on Dixie Highway north of the viaduct could be restructured as part of a project to repair a collapsed storm sewer that contributes to chronic flooding of the viaduct.

At the request of the Illinois Department of Transportation, Homewood trustees approved a letter of support for changing Dixie Highway to two lanes of traffic, two bike lanes and a center turn lane from the viaduct north to Sycamore Drive, just south of 175th Street.

The new lane structure would be similar to what village officials have proposed doing on 183rd Street east of Dixie Highway, a project that currently is on hold because of funding issues.

Steve Schilke, IDOT bureau chief of programming, explained the status of the project and answered questions from the board and Mayor Rich Hofeld at the March 12 village board meeting.


Schilke explained the three phases that IDOT projects go through. Phase 1 is engineering, Phase 2 is contract preparation and Phase 3 is construction.

Although the issue at hand was support for the lane restructing, the viaduct’s drainage problems were part of the discussion. The problems go back at least 20 years, when IDOT studied how to repair a collapsed section of the sewer line. The project is included in the 2024-2029 Proposed Highway & Multimodal Improvement Program.

“We actually got through Phase 1 with the drainage and then we kind of took a step back saying, ‘If we’re gonna go out there and rip up the road, here’s an opportunity to restripe it. How can we make this better?'” Schilke said.

He said the agency is aware that many drivers speed through that portion of Dixie Highway, which is just north of the difficult intersection with Park Avenue as Dixie turns sharply east to the viaduct.

Traffic accidents throughout the state, often caused by speeding, continue to be higher than pre-pandemic levels, he said. The lane reconfiguration is designed to help slow traffic down some, which is why such steps are referred to as traffic calming tactics.

“Further narrowing the lanes (should) slow people down,” he said, noting he had observed  “people are going fairly fast through here.”

Hofeld asked about the timetable for the project. Schilke said timing depends on a number of factors, including land acquisition, which can take two to three years, and budget appropriations from the state legislature.

Schilke said Phase 2 has started. The lane reconfiguration will be an amendment to Phase 1 plans. He indicated Phase 3 could start in about three years if all goes well. 

Hofeld asked for an explanation for why the project was taking so long. He noted that he and Public Works Director John Schaefer had visited IDOT officials five or six years ago to request the drainage problem be given priority.

Schaefer said the viaduct has been closed to traffic because of flooding at least 30 times in the past two years. It was closed again for about six hours on Thursday, March 14, because of early morning rain.

Schilke said IDOT often encounters challenges that slow things down, including compliance with state and federal regulations, environmental issues and various unforeseen problems. In this case, engineering work on the drainage problem took longer than expected. The system uses gravity to move storm water, and because there is a hill just north of the viaduct, the storm sewer is located deep underground.

“Getting through Phase 1 is a huge step forward,” he said.

Hofeld also pushed for more immediate help making the Dixie/Park intersection safer. He told Schilke he had asked IDOT to install a convex mirror to give drivers stopped on Park a better view of oncoming traffic. 

Schilke said he had consulted with the IDOT Bureau of Operations and learned that the mirror option is not allowed.

“Unfortunately the department does not install or allow the installation of mirrors on state highways,” he said. 

The problem, he said, is that while convex mirror offers a wider view, it also distorts the image and can make it difficult for drivers to accurately judge distances, which could contribute to crashes.

Hofeld said drivers heading north on Park Avenue to Dixie cannot see traffic coming from the viaduct, and drivers turning left from the viaduct cannot see approaching traffic southbound on Dixie. 

“Right now, people are flying blind. You can’t see,” he said.

He asked if the village could install a mirror at its own expense, and Schilke said it would have to be outside of IDOT’s right of way. 

Trustee Anne Colton, who is a cyclist, applauded the lane restructuring.

“That is a very dangerous area,” she said. “I fully agree with and echo everything President Hofeld said. We need this to move quickly.”

Trustee Jay Heiferman asked about any plans for the viaduct itself.

Schaefer said IDOT doesn’t have jurisdiction over the viaduct structure, only the roadway. The railroads, CN and Metra, own the viaduct. He said the structure is inspected periodically and remains sound, even though aesthetically it looks rough.

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