More two-way traffic may be coming to downtown Aurora, as the city council took its first look Tuesday at a proposed plan to change Benton Street and Downer Place to two-way streets.
Benton already accommodates two-way traffic between Broadway Avenue and River Street since reconstruction of the Downer bridges began in February. The proposed traffic changes would keep it that way and create lanes heading each direction on Downer once the new bridges are complete.
"If we were going to move forward on a one-way to two-way conversion, this was the optimum time," said Eric Gallt, the city's traffic engineer.
The bridges are set to be finished by Oct. 31 in a $6.8 million project paid for with $5.9 million in grants from the federal and state governments and $900,000 of city money.
If the traffic conversion is approved, Gallt said the city aims to finish the process as soon as possible after the bridges' completion.
The council is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to approve a $99,402 contract with HR Green Inc. for engineering designs. The engineering work would be the first step toward completing a project expected to cost between $275,000 and $300,000.
Allowing two-way traffic on both Benton and Downer could improve access to downtown businesses. The change is expected to lower drivers' average speed to between 27 and 29 mph, which will increase pedestrian safety.
"Enhanced business access was another real drive behind this," Gallt said.
An open house about the proposal drew 27 people, and Gallt said he held separate meetings with business owners who would be affected by the change, some of whom expressed uncertainty about the plan, but not opposition.
Alderman Lynda Elmore asked how many parking spaces would be lost in converting the streets for two-way traffic. Gallt said Downer will lose two to four spots, and Benton may lose a few spaces near the main branch of the Aurora Public Library. Some other space formerly used for parking will be converted to loading zones at the request of business owners.
"I think it will actually have a benefit to downtown to have some of these loading zones," Gallt said.
Alderman Rick Lawrence asked if city staff were concerned about increased traffic on the residential portion of Downer west of downtown. He said giving drivers the option to head east on Downer until Broadway Avenue may lead more of them to choose it as an eastbound route instead of Galena Boulevard, a development he expects west-side residents would not see favorably.
Gallt said traffic signal timing would make Galena a faster route, so he does not expect a large amount of drivers to choose Downer instead.
If the traffic changes are approved, Benton will become a two-way street from Broadway to Woodlawn, where two-way traffic is already in effect, and Downer will become a two-way street between Broadway and Locust.