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updated: 10/22/2012 12:11 PM

Roadwork a drag on Libertyville businesses

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  • Westbound traffic backs up on Route 137 heading toward Milwaukee Avenue in Libertyville, where the road has been narrowed to one lane in each direction during construction. Village leaders and local business affected by the construction are unhappy with the slow rate of progress.

       Westbound traffic backs up on Route 137 heading toward Milwaukee Avenue in Libertyville, where the road has been narrowed to one lane in each direction during construction. Village leaders and local business affected by the construction are unhappy with the slow rate of progress.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Small driveways allow access to businesses along Route 137 in Libertyville, which is in the midst of a widening project. Village leaders and local business affected by the construction are unhappy with the slow rate of progress.

       Small driveways allow access to businesses along Route 137 in Libertyville, which is in the midst of a widening project. Village leaders and local business affected by the construction are unhappy with the slow rate of progress.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Eastbound traffic on Route 137 approaching Milwaukee Avenue in Libertyville backs up as the road has been narrowed during construction. That configuration will remain in place through winter, a situation that has frustrated village officials and had a negative impact on businesses.

       Eastbound traffic on Route 137 approaching Milwaukee Avenue in Libertyville backs up as the road has been narrowed during construction. That configuration will remain in place through winter, a situation that has frustrated village officials and had a negative impact on businesses.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

 
 

As road projects unfold, those who deal with the delays and inconveniences are told to imagine how much better traffic will flow when the work is complete.

That often is true. But in Libertyville, the frustration with a big project involving Milwaukee Avenue and Route 137 on the north side of town continues to simmer and some businesses wonder whether they'll be around long enough to see the benefits.

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"Our businesses are really suffering up there," Mayor Terry Weppler said. "What we feared has come to pass."

Weppler was referring to the sea of barricades and cones that has narrowed travel in and approaching the intersection from a total of five lanes to three -- one in each direction and a left-turn lane at each leg.

What the village and businesses are not happy about is that what you see is what you will get through winter.

"It's going to be in the configuration it is today, so it certainly will be challenging," Public Works Director John Heinz said.

According to the Illinois Department of Transportation, 28,000 vehicles a day travel through the intersection on Milwaukee Avenue, and 32,000 via Route 137. The figures likely are lower these days as drivers have found ways to avoid the area.

Depending on the day, shop owners say they have seen business drop by 15 percent to as much as 50 percent. And it hasn't snowed yet.

"Road construction the biggest competition you can have," said Rich Laskowski Jr., whose family owns eight Ace Hardware stores, including one in the thick of the construction zone. He estimates business is off up to 30 percent.

"The whole area is being affected," Laskowski said.

Those impacts were part of the discussion this past week at the village's economic development commission, where suggestions were offered regarding driveway access, signal timing improvements and communication with businesses.

Waiving the 30-day limit on temporary banners for businesses in the construction zone is one expected change, and business owners will be invited to a meeting Thursday with IDOT engineers to discuss the project and what to expect as winter approaches.

The $23 million project has two main parts: widening and reconstruction of the two-lane Milwaukee Avenue for about two miles north of the intersection; and, widening the intersection with dual left-turn lanes on each leg.

A new bridge over Bull Creek, several box culverts, a pedestrian tunnel near Casey Road, a signal at Casey, several retaining walls, and a drainage system also are part of the work.

The contract completion date is Aug. 31, 2013, but that is expected to be extended several months.

Since two lanes of traffic have remained open during construction on the northern section, work there has not been the issue.

The project, which is being paid for by Lake County but managed by IDOT, officially began in fall 2011. This past spring, work on the roadway portions was delayed for more than three months because of a lag in relocating utilities.

Knowing the potential timetable, Weppler asked IDOT to defer the intersection portion until next year so it could be completed in one season and the impact on businesses reduced. The agency declined.

"The way it is, the way it's going to be and that's terrible," Weppler said.

One factor keeping progress slow is the design's call for 30-year concrete, which requires an asphalt subgrade and a longer cure time than a 20-year design, according to IDOT.

"The intersection is a big portion of the project, so we want to get as much done as we can," said Mary Ellen Mack, construction supervisor for IDOT.

Crews from Walsh Construction Co. are installing sewers and water lines, manholes and other drainage features at the intersection. Heinz said Walsh has been working 10-hour days and Saturdays, and has made good progress in the past few weeks.

"Walsh is not screwing around," he said. "They want to get it done."

The entire project is about 20 percent complete.

That's little consolation for Larry Evans, co-owner of a Dunkin' Donuts shop on Route 137 -- located just about at the point where barricades went up several weeks ago to reduce traffic to one lane. He says business is down 30 percent to 50 percent.

"We're doing everything we can to stay alive here. Every single business I've talked to is hurting," he said. Evans, who opened the store in 2006, says he has cut employee hours and is watching every penny.

"We really need the community to rally around us," he said. "I understand why they don't want to come down here."

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