Lawmakers Pull The Plug On UTA Name Change

Geneva officials are asking local legislators to help them convince state authorities to change the plan for cutting Route 31 down to three lanes through part of town.

They still want the three lanes on one stretch -- but not in the area south of Forest View Drive.

Aldermen voted Monday to send letters to the Illinois Department of Transportation and state legislators Mike Fortner, Steven Andersson, Karen McConnaughay and Jim Oberweis.

That was after they learned that informal pleading, done Friday by Geneva public works director Rich Babica, hadn't changed IDOT engineers' minds.

The history

The state is resurfacing Route 31 from Third Street in Geneva south to Main Street in Batavia. Last year, some residents convinced the city to ask the state to change the road to three through lanes, and add bicycle lanes on each side, a practice commonly known as a "road diet." The council agreed to study it, if the residents paid for the study.

The engineering study showed the roadway was too narrow for bike lanes and, in fact, most of it was too narrow to accommodate four lanes of traffic. IDOT standards call for a minimum width of 40 feet for four lanes; in spots, Route 31 is as narrow as 35 feet.

The study recommended going to three lanes. But in February Rob Byrnes, the owner of office buildings on the 1900 and 2000 blocks, and other businessmen said doing so would make it difficult for their employees to get in and out, due to traffic backing up. The council then asked for the taper to start north of those businesses.

Best-laid plans

But IDOT chose the original plan.

Jeff Toland, distribution director at Houghton Mifflin Co., said the plan will make it more dangerous for its workers to turn left to go north when trucks are in the center turn lane blocking their view. Traffic already backs up southbound during evening rush, he said.

"It is already known to be a problem. It is going to get worse," Byrnes said. Especially if another business moves on his site, or into the Campana Building just south of him. "I'm at a total loss for why IDOT can't see that. I don't care if they are a government agency or not, it doesn't make any sense."

Furthermore, the state requires the city's engineering consultant to tweak the plan the city submitted, would would cost $12,000 to $14,000 according to Geneva's Babica.

Aldermen Monday voted to ask the private "road diet task force," which paid for the initial study, to pay the additional costs.

And aldermen questioned what would happen if the group decided not to pay. Would IDOT pull the plug on the idea? Babica cautioned against that, because the state has already let the contract. Doing so could create ill will with IDOT, something he doesn't want to risk as the city works with IDOT on upcoming projects.

Alderman Dean Kilburg asked who was on the task force. Alderman Tom Simonian, in whose ward the stretch lies and who has been working with the residents, declined to name them without first getting their permission.

City records indicate that Larry Geis Jr., of the 200 block of Foxford Lane, paid the city $25,000, and NGI Holdings LLC paid $6,050, both in November. NGI, an investment company, is located in a house on the 900 block of South Batavia Avenue owned by Robert and Sheila Fitzsimmons, according to Geneva Township assessment records.

"It seems to me they are a special interest, and the decision is being made on the basis of a special interest vs. business interest," Toland said. Kilburg said the names should be disclosed because the group is influencing the community.

Alderman Jim Radecki also called the task force a special-interest group. He said he appreciated the group's initiative, but that the city should think twice in the future about making decisions "with other people bankrolling" them.

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