Why St. Francis High School wants IDOT to make changes to Roosevelt Road project
St. Francis High School officials are criticizing a proposed widening of Roosevelt Road, saying the project would add to safety concerns for students at the Wheaton campus.
School President Betsy Ackerson is asking for revisions to the Illinois Department of Transportation plan to reconstruct Roosevelt with two lanes in each direction -- separated by a new median -- on a stretch from east of Winfield Road to west of County Farm Road. That work would connect two intersection projects at Winfield and County Farm.
In a four-page letter to IDOT, Ackerson raised concerns about flooding and noise pollution, calling the current iteration of the project "flawed and extremely troublesome on a range of fronts."
Among other requests, the 717-student school wants IDOT to install a traffic signal and crosswalk at the east exit of the campus and immediately west of Marian Park, an affordable housing complex for families and seniors.
For years, students at the Catholic school have crossed the four-lane artery to park in overflow spaces in the Target shopping center lot on the other side of Roosevelt. St. Francis pays Wheaton police $30,000 annually to provide traffic control to allow teens to cross the busy road before and after school. Roughly 150 students now park in the shopping center lot.
IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell said in an email "the department is aware of the concerns expressed by the school and will continue working with all stakeholders involved on possible solutions." When asked why a traffic signal at the school's eastern edge wasn't included in the plans, Tridgell said "the department just received the letter and will review."
"We believe a traffic signal and crosswalk at our east exit and across from the shopping center would greatly increase the safety of not only our students, faculty, staff and visitors crossing Roosevelt Road to get to the shopping center to the north, but also the residents of Marian Park, our neighbors to the east who also daily cross Roosevelt Road," Ackerson wrote in the letter.
The landlocked school has a parking problem in part because state restrictions on the number of passengers in cars driven by teenagers discourage carpooling, Ackerson wrote.
The school has made repeated attempts to acquire land for a parking lot in neighboring Belleau Woods from the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County. The district has refused to part with any portion of Belleau Woods, citing a 1965 Illinois General Assembly act that states the land should not be developed except to enhance public recreation and enjoyment.
Environmentalists oppose a land swap because Belleau Woods is a pristine mix of rare upland oak forest, floodplain forest, ephemeral ponds and wetland areas, as well as a small natural prairie.
Ackerson said the school hired a planner to study parking options, including building an overpass over Roosevelt and a parking deck on campus. "The options are not feasible for economic and other reasons," Ackerson wrote.
She also urged IDOT to conduct a new traffic study to reflect the fatalities, accidents and changes in state law that have occurred in the decade since DuPage County published the last major Roosevelt study. Ackerson noted the November 2014 death of a Marian Park resident who was struck by two cars while attempting to cross Roosevelt near Fapp Circle.
"Further, on a weekly basis there also are numerous 'near misses' on the part of parents, faculty, staff and students as they attempt to drive out of the SFHS parking lot and/or walk across the street to the shopping center," she wrote.
As for flooding, Ackerson worries the project will reduce permeable areas that absorb rainwater. A portion of the 61-year-old campus sits in flood zone. Despite the addition of a drainage system about five years ago, the school's synthetic-turf football field and track "have been severely damaged by recent repeated flooding," she wrote.
"It should be noted that the cost to repair and restore the field to safe, clean, playable conditions is in excess of $100,000," she wrote. "This is not an expense that SFHS, a nonprofit school, can afford. And most certainly additional displaced water will only increase the expense with additional incidents of flooding."
In neighboring Winfield, officials and residents have expressed concerns with the volume of floodwater that would flow through a proposed triple cell concrete culvert at Winfield Creek under Roosevelt. The structure would replace a double cell box culvert as part of the overall project -- the focus of a Winfield public works committee meeting Jan. 23.