159th Street merchants fighting higher median
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY firstname.lastname@example.org May 3, 2013 9:38PM
Wheel-Go Camping owner Bob Schmidt looks onto 159th Street where a plan to widen the street and install unmountable concrete medians would prevent westbound traffic from turning into his entrance in Homer Glen, Ill. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 6, 2013 7:08AM
While the state aggressively tries to acquire the land needed to widen 159th Street in Homer Glen, business owners along the two-lane road have been equally aggressive in fighting the plan.
For the past few years, merchants have voiced concerns about the loss of their property, parking, signs, access and, especially, customers. While a wider road is a key to the future of Homer Glen, the store owners are worried about their future.
“Our livelihood depends on that road,” said Bob Schmidt, owner of Wheel-Go Camping, a camping equipment and recreational vehicle retailer at 159th Street and Parker Road for 35 years.
For years, Schmidt and others in the Business Area Group of 159th Street have opposed the Illinois Department of Transportation’s plan for unmountable concrete medians on 159th Street, which would prevent customers from making left turns into their businesses.
If IDOT acquires the land it needs this year, the widening project could start next year.
Schmidt joined a group of village, township and Will County officials who traveled to Springfield recently to meet with IDOT Secretary Ann Schneider and Omer Osman, IDOT’s chief engineer and director of the division of highways.
Schmidt said he wanted to make them aware of what it is like doing business in Homer Glen rather than rely on the report of an engineer who has never been to the village.
For merchants, who are negotiating with IDOT to acquire their land, this median issue has to be settled first.
“We’ve been working on this for three years,” Will County Board member Steve Balich (R-Homer Glen) said. “We say we don’t want medians, they (IDOT) say “how do you want to beautify them?’ We are getting them whether we like it or not.”
Medians will impede delivery trucks and emergency vehicles and “destroy businesses,” Balich said. “It will limit commercial development. This is absurd. The state is broke, and it wants to put in 12 inches of concrete for seven miles.”
He said local officials felt they had to state their case to top IDOT officials. He anticipates a compromise.
“I felt like they were willing to work with us. They didn’t say they would (change the plan), but I felt like they understood,” Balich said.
Homer Glen Mayor Jim Daley said this wasn’t the first time village representatives have pleaded their case in Springfield. He said other towns have tried to eliminate unmountable medians, including Orland Park, and were unsuccessful.
Many major roads now have such medians for safety reasons, forcing motorists to make U-turns rather than left turns to reach a destination. Similar medians were installed with the recent widening of U.S. 30 through New Lenox, Mokena and Frankfort.
Attorney Tom Goedert, who represents several 159th Street merchants, said IDOT hopes to acquire all the land it needs, about 300 properties, by November, when it wants to seek bids. Goedert expects about 100 condemnation lawsuits to be filed.
He said IDOT has made concessions, allowing for more breaks in the median than originally proposed, but its primary focus is safety for the four-lane road that will run from Interstate 355 to LaGrange Road with speed limits up to 55 mph.
But merchants such as Schmidt, Sheri Law and George Muersch, each of whom has been established along the street for more than 30 years, do not want that traffic to bypass their stores.
“We have spent our lives out here. We want to make sure our businesses will survive this,” said Law, owner of Sheri Law Art Glass, 12551 W. 159th St.
Muersch remembers when customers would ride up to his Ace Hardware store on horses. Now he and his son, George Jr., worry if trucks will be able to make deliveries and if customers who don’t want to make a U-turn will shop at Menards instead.
“What folks don’t understand is that this (widened road) affects our livelihood and the village’s livelihood,” George Jr. said. “They are making it harder and harder for customers to enter our store. People are like water. They will take the path of least resistance.”