Naperville's Route 59 businesses feeling construction 'aggravation'
The Illinois Department of Transportation says the Route 59 expansion project on the Naperville/Aurora border is on schedule to be finished by September 2015.
That completion can't come soon enough for Hollywood Palms movie theater owner Ted Bulthaup.
Bulthaup says construction to widen the road to three lanes in each direction between Ferry Road and Aurora Avenue/New York Street is slowing business by 20 percent at his theater at 352 S. Route 59 in Naperville, and he wishes contractors would move more quickly.
"They just don't get how badly they can disrupt business," Bulthaup said about the contractors hired by IDOT. "They just look at it as a slight inconvenience -- they have most of the lanes open, so people will just find another way to get to you. That's just not quite how it works. How it works is they find another place to go."
Aside from the speed of progress on the nearly $90 million project, which began in August 2013, Bulthaup said he is concerned about the cluttered and overgrown appearance of some segments of the construction zone. He said piles of gravel and tall weeds contribute to a general feeling that "this is a mess and a place to stay away from."
Bulthaup led a tour of the work zone near his business Friday for Naperville city staff members as he asked them to do what they can to improve the ease of travel and the look and feel of the 3.5-mile stretch of Route 59 before the holiday shopping season.
The city council heard his request Nov. 5 when council member Robert Fieseler asked city employees to "use whatever influence we have to make this whole stretch better and as welcoming as possible, recognizing that there's another year's worth of work to do on it."
Bill Novack, Naperville's director of transportation, engineering and development, said he will pass along concerns about aesthetics and delays to IDOT officials who are overseeing the three contractors assigned to complete the work. Each contractor stands to lose $6,775 a day for each day the project is completed after its September 2015 deadline, so Novack said the companies have plenty of incentive to work efficiently.
"A lot of this is focusing on getting done by the completion date," Novack said. "As we've gone through this year, there have been no additional days for the contract."
Novack also said the city recently tested travel times in the work zone and compared them to baseline measurements taken in March 2013 before construction began.
For northbound traffic, where the road is reduced to one lane, Novack said it took an extra 9½ minutes to get from Aurora Avenue/New York Street to Ferry Road during the evening rush hour, bringing the total travel time to 18½ minutes instead of 9. In the morning in the northbound lanes, there was an extra 7½-minute delay. But on the southbound side, delays only averaged 2 or 3 minutes when compared to pre-construction travel times, he said.
"The message we've had is not to avoid 59, but it's been to give it additional time," Novack said.
Still, Bulthaup said the slower travel times are proving significant enough to deter some customers.
"If they have to face an hour logjam to get here, they'll never make it on time for their movie in between work and getting to where we are, and they just won't put up with the aggravation," Bulthaup said. "You can't blame them."
Travel times could improve in the northbound lanes when IDOT contractors winterize the site, but spokesman Guy Tridgell said contractors will wait as long as weather allows before stopping work for the coldest season.
"We're going to try to maintain it as an active work zone for as long as possible through the winter," Tridgell said. "There will be equipment there and materials stored for the sake of getting the project moved along as quickly as possible."
Tridgell said a regional concrete shortage caused slight delays, but the issue has been resolved. Until next September, he said IDOT "appreciates the patience of the public."
"There can be an inconvenience and we certainly understand that. This is a major project, but it has been in the pipeline for many, many years and is supported strongly by communities along the route," Tridgell said. "We know there might be some short-term pain, but there is a long-term gain with improved traffic flow and enhanced safety and the potential for more economic development."