A road project that has riled local officials because of delays took a giant leap this week, though many motorists who long ago chose to avoid the area may not be aware of the welcome change.
As they have for countless months, construction crews scurried around Route 137 east and west of Route 21 (Milwaukee Avenue) in Libertyville. This time, it was what they took away that brightened the mood along the corridor.
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Gone, for the most part, is a veritable sea of orange construction barrels that for two construction seasons narrowed traffic to a single lane each way.
"Our customer count went up 80 people yesterday," said Paul LaRoche, manager of the Ace Hardware store on Route 137 (Peterson Road) in the thick of the construction zone. "We had an increase instantly of people coming in (and) celebrating."
With pavement striping applied and the obstructions removed, two through lanes in each direction on Route 137 were opened to traffic through the intersection about 3 p.m. Tuesday. That means four of the five new lanes -- a second left-turn lane is the only exception -- are open each way.
"It will make a world of difference for the businesses and people who travel through there," said John Heinz, the village's public works director.
Work is not as far along on Milwaukee Avenue, where workers have not been able to install pavement markings.
Still, like removing a clog from a drain, the result on Route 137 was immediate.
"I'm watching the traffic and it's literally flying by here," said Bill Kaiser, owner of Lee Famous Donuts across the street and just down the road from Ace. "It was a parking lot in front."
Kaiser, took over the business Jan. 1, and has reconfigured and expanded. He said travelers headed east on Route 137 were hesitant to cross the construction barriers. That has changed literally overnight.
"We almost sold out of doughnuts today. It's already worked on the first day," he said.
A widened intersection is the central part of a $23 million project that also includes widening Route 21 to four lanes for about two miles mainly north of Route 137, and several other improvements in the area.
Preliminary work, which is funded by Lake County but managed by the Illinois Department of Transporation, began in fall 2011. A subsequent four-month delay because of utility issues has had workers playing catch up and local officials doing a slow burn.
This past fall with the construction work complete, IDOT had hoped to open the intersection to through traffic by Christmas. But pavement markings are required before the lanes can open, and weather and other factors intervened.
IDOT officials have said the weather needs to be above freezing and dry for the pavement markings to be applied.
That was of little consequence to Mayor Terry Weppler, who has complained repeatedly of alleged foot dragging. Weppler, who is out of town this week, threatened to paint the lines himself -- and said he was willing to go to jail if need be.
He also called several local state elected officials to intervene with IDOT.
"Maybe all that calling did do some good," state Rep. Carol Sente said Thursday.