Officials and residents from four North Shore suburbs butted heads over a 1.2-mile stretch of road during Thursday night's meeting at New Trier Township High School in Northfield. The issue could see a resolution within the next year and a green light within the next four years.
Since 2009 the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) has studied two miles of Willow Road, from Waukegan Road to Interstate Highway 94, to give reports on traffic flow, preliminary engineering and the environment.
Throughout the course of the study, a state-mandated Community Advisory Group (CAG) made up of 18 community leaders and residents from Northfield as well as seven from Glenview, Northbrook and Winnetka, has been meeting with the IDOT project team and consulting firm TranSystems.
In that time, IDOT and the firm have found that traffic, safety and pollution concerns are of the highest priority for suburbs that surround the major thoroughfare, which is currently receiving a failing grade for traffic flow, according to Peter Harmet, IDOT bureau chief of programming.
Harmet recommended two different lane designs at the end of the meeting, based on their exceptional performance in safety, mobility, accident probability and construction costs.
The recommended designs, both of which have two variations, are as follows:
- Design 1: A two-lane road with a flush or striped median; or a two-lane road with a solid median and flushed or striped shoulders
- Design 2: A four-lane road with a solid median; or a four-lane road with a flushed or striped median.
“We can get Willow Road to [a passing grade] with four lanes,” Harmet said. "You're balancing a number of different factors.”
Those factors, Harmet noted, include proper distance between Willow Road and private property, signage, medians and street lights.
And though "more lanes means more impacts," Harmet added, traffic congestion will eventually decrease.
Taking the Next Step
Based on comments from the group last night, IDOT will further analyze the severity of crashes along Willow Road according to their study so far. They'll then recommend that the board adopt one of two road layouts for the design process, the next step in the project.
One of the two designs, both costing a minimum of $14 million each to build, could be ready for construction by 2015 at the earliest, Harmet said.
A CAG member from Northfield, Dan de Loys, said that traffic congestion on Willow Road is a regional problem, not a local one, that can't be solved by simply building additional lanes through his suburb.
“The big push is [for IDOT] to get as many cars through Northfield as possible,” creating a bottleneck effect, de Loys said. “Once they leave Northfield, traffic will be backed up to the west.”
Earlier in the process, IDOT performed their study with a "tunnel vision" of Willow Road, de Loys said, and the results may jeopardize the makeup of his town.
“Again, just because you're trying to speed cars through Northfield a minute or two faster,” de Loys continued, “is that worth destroying a town—the fabric, the makeup of this town?”
One Northfield resident echoed de Loys' concerns, saying that a regional approach to traffic congestion is the best route.
“Traffic everywhere is bad,” the resident said. “It's horrible, and what you do or don't do to 1.2 miles of Willow Road is not going to make a darn difference in the big scheme of things. If you want change, it's got to be a regional solution.”