JOLIET – A consulting firm is suggesting a handful of changes to intersections along Route 53 between south Joliet and the Wilmington area.
The preliminary ideas are aimed at improving safety and operations on the road, as well as pedestrian and bicycle accommodations along the route, Illinois Department of Transportation consultant studies unit head Kimberly Murphy said.
IDOT, with support from consulting firm Clark Dietz and engineers at Patrick Engineering, held a community advisory group meeting May 3 at Stone City VFW Post 2199 off Route 53 to get feedback from residents and businesses. During the session, possible intersection solutions were presented after more than a year of research and review related to a Route 53 study the state began in fall 2015.
The 13-mile study spans the Route 53 corridor between Doris Avenue at the north and West Arsenal Road south of Wilmington, which has seen an influx of truck traffic since the opening of intermodals in the area, such as the nation’s largest inland port – CenterPoint Intermodal Center – in 2002.
Local officials, particularly in the small village of Elwood, have spoken out for years about the danger posed when semitrailers make ill-advised turns onto residential roads and the reality that trucks are traveling on what was largely designed as a rural road system.
There was the time, in January 2016, a truck driver was cited for rolling over graves at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood. And last week, Elwood Police Chief Fred Hayes said that at least one semi went down a residential street into a dead-end cul-de-sac and had trouble getting out. The truck broke up the curb and dragged out some landscaping with it.
“Unfortunately, the study has been commissioned after significant impact to the area,” said Hayes, who wants better signage and communication of routes for truck drivers. “But I’m very encouraged the state is taking into serious consideration the safety of this roadway.”
The imposing threat of thousands of semis on Route 53 just east of the village’s core became so frightening that officials and residents banded together to form a group called Safe Roads Illinois in December 2015.
Elwood officials pushed for and were granted in 2015 the closing of Walter Strawn Drive – a road that connected trucks stopping at Elwood industrial facilities to Route 53.
The decision has brought trucks off Elwood’s stretch of Route 53, said Hayes and state Rep. Larry Walsh Jr., D-Joliet, whose district includes Elwood and south Joliet.
“But as growth continues, congestion on Route 53 will only expand,” Walsh Jr. said. “We need to be in front of it, and that’s one of the reasons IDOT is looking into [solutions].”
Between 2010 and 2014, 483 crashes occurred on the stretch of Route 53 under review. Murphy said there are problems at many of the intersections.
“We want to take a look at any area with crashes,” Murphy said. “There were six fatals there [in that time period]. Our goal is to have zero. One is too many.”
In its current configuration, some motorists traveling south on Route 53 turn left at Doris Avenue – despite there being no left turn lane – if they want to continue on to Route 52. The state is considering moving Route 52 almost a quarter-mile south to Mills Road, where the current configuration eventually ends.
The firm believes it will alleviate congestion at the Doris Avenue intersection, where the left southbound lane often gets clogged up as motorists wait to turn left. The stretch of Route 53 is apparently lacking in left turn lanes.
“A lot of left turns without actual turn lanes can lead to operational and safety issues, and the viaduct north of the Doris Avenue intersection would limit the length of an added left turn lane,” Murphy said, adding the re-route idea was well received at the May 3 meeting and was suggested by Will County.
Will County Highway Engineer Jeffrey Ronaldson said the county isn’t significantly involved with the study process but is in support of alleviating truck traffic at various intersections, such as Arsenal Road and Route 53.
“Any improvement they make would be welcome,” Ronaldson said.
IDOT has proposed adding right turn lanes at the Route 53 and Laraway Road intersection. Murphy said the intersection is limited when it comes to expansion, because of access points to the south and the railroad to the west, so the added turn lanes would be a way to improve operations of the intersection without a major reconstruction.
IDOT also is considering a five-way roundabout intersection on Mills Road where Route 52 continues to the southeast, and an alignment of Zurich Road west of Route 53 and Girard Boulevard east of Route 53 that, according to the proposed alignment, would require property acquisition that would likely force relocation of an auto shop.
Murphy said all proposals are tentative, and additional public meetings will follow.
Hayes suggested a designated truck lane north and south on Route 53 that would bring both sides to three lanes, though he admitted it’s easy to pitch ideas without funding in mind. Murphy said adding entire lanes is not likely in the immediate future because traffic counts are not high enough.
The state will now evaluate which proposed projects along Route 53 garner the highest priority. Implementation and funding will be considered later in the process.
The Route 53 proposals can be viewed at il53corridor.org.