Naperville and Aurora officials are warning drivers to be prepared for traffic to get worse before it gets better on Route 59 as construction to widen a 3.5-mile stretch of the congested state road is set to begin Monday.
While city and state officials are informing drivers about the nearly $90 million two-year project, business owners are bracing for the effects they say the roadwork likely will have on their bottom line.
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"It can cut an economically devastating swath that you never really recover from," said Ted Bulthaup, owner of the Hollywood Palms movie theaters at 352 Route 59 in Naperville.
Crews are expected to begin removing medians and installing temporary pavement and traffic signals Monday, Aug. 20, along the northern end of the roadwork zone, which stretches from Ferry Road south to Aurora Avenue/New York Street, said Jennifer Louden, a Naperville project manager. Anyone who typically uses Route 59 should be prepared for delays beginning with their Monday morning commute, she said.
"Motorists know when they travel on Route 59 today, it's often a very frustrating experience, and it will continue to be a frustrating experience for the next two years," Louden said. "But once the work is done, it will be much improved."
The project includes widening the road to three lanes in each direction and creating extra left-turn lanes at Diehl Road, North Aurora Road, Jefferson Avenue/Liberty Street and Aurora Avenue/New York Street. Traffic signal coordination will be improved, and one of the first "diverging diamond" interchanges in the state will be built where Route 59 meets I-88.
Louden said whenever possible, workers will keep two lanes open in each direction, but lane closures are expected to last months once they begin.
Aside from allowing extra time, drivers are encouraged to seek alternate routes on arterial roadways -- not residential streets. But that can be difficult in the Naperville area, where residents often identify the lack of easy routes for north/south travel as a problem on community surveys.
Eola Road to the west, Raymond Drive to the east and Ferry Road to the north can be alternatives for some drivers. Those who usually travel to the Route 59 Metra station can take a Pace park-and-ride service to the Naperville station instead, which leaves from St. Thomas the Apostle Church at 1500 Brookdale Road. But Louden said she knows neither of those is a perfect option.
"We do acknowledge that a lot of the alternate routes already are congested," Louden said. "People are going to have to balance which route is going to work best for them."
Aurora spokesman Dan Ferrelli said the city may adjust signal timings on Eola Road to accommodate extra vehicles beginning in early November.
Business owners like Butlhaup of Hollywood Palms say they are wary of the two-year construction process about to create obstacles and traffic jams in front of their shops.
"People hate it if it ties them up when they have to make it in for showtime," Bulthaup said.
He said he hopes contractors do not block lanes for longer than absolutely necessary, but Louden said lane blockages will be "ongoing" because crews not only are widening the road but also reconstructing existing lanes.
She said Naperville, Aurora and the Illinois Department of Transportation are planning a meeting in September so businesspeople can meet the contractors and ask questions.
"Can we get any angrier at the traffic on Route 59?" Karina Garcia, executive director of the Aurora Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, asks in an email to members. "Si, se puede!"