New roadwork law is their business
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY firstname.lastname@example.org August 30, 2013 9:52PM
Marlene Carlson, manager of Elixir Fitness in New Lenox, expects business to pick up now that the orange cones have been moved to the side as the widening of U.S. 30 nears completion. | Susan DeMar Lafferty~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 2, 2013 6:26AM
In growing suburbs where road construction has become a way of life, local officials and business owners are welcoming a new law designed to ease the pain and frustration accompanying these work zones.
House Bill 2382 — recently signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn — will “help those in construction zones maintain a bit of normalcy,” said state Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant (D-Plainfield), who sponsored the bill in the Senate.
Under the new law — which goes into effect Jan. 1 — the Illinois Department of Transportation will be required to work with towns and businesses before projects begin, make them part of the planning process, identify their needs, keep them informed during the work, and erect signs letting the public know a business is open and how to get to it.
It also requires advance notice before beginning a project that requires closure of traffic lanes or roads.
“IDOT has done a lot of this on its own. This just solidifies it. They ‘can’ do this, now they have to,” Bertino-Tarrant said. “This is business-friendly legislation. With all the orange cones, people need to know how to get in and out.”
The bill, passed unanimously in both the House and Senate, was driven by Rep. Kay Hatcher (R-Yorkville) after the construction of a major intersection in her Kane County district at Routes 47 and 64.
The bill is subtitled “Pete’s Hot Dog Bill,” she said, named after a business owner who has been at that corner for more than 40 years. The initial plan for the work there would have cut off truck traffic to his hot dog stand.
“He contacted me long before construction began and IDOT was able to work with him to reconfigure the entrance. It was a simple change in the curb,” Hatcher said.
“If road construction has to happen, let’s work with communities to minimize the negative impacts,” she said.
Neighboring states have been much more proactive about this, she said.
“This is a big step for Illinois. We had minimal standards before. Now the bar has been lifted significantly with this legislation,” Hatcher said.
There is no penalty if IDOT fails to comply, but it will “have to deal with 117 cranky legislators,” she said.
In New Lenox, where four lanes of traffic on U.S. 30 finally are open after nearly three years of construction, Mayor Tim Baldermann said, “It’s unfortunate that we need such legislation, but it is critical.”
While most businesses were able to survive the difficulty customers experienced getting into their parking lots, it was up to the municipality to support the businesses and stay on top of it, he said.
“Many times local government has to be the advocate for the people. That’s not the priority of the construction contractor,” Baldermann said. “They might close an entrance because it’s easier for them, but it really does a lot of damage to the businesses.”
Marlene Carlson, manager of Elixir Fitness in New Lenox, opened in the Hickory Creek Plaza during the construction last November and said she knew what she was getting in to. She likes the new law.
There were times when one of the two entrances to the plaza in the 1800 block of East U.S. 30 was closed. Small signs indicated which driveways were open, but many customers didn’t see them and would drive by the entrance, she said. And it is inevitable that people will just avoid construction zones, she said.
“I countered all of that with lots of good advertising,” Carlson said. “Advertising is huge. You have to do something. I try to stay positive and take care of my customers.”
Coupons brought in clients, as did word of mouth.
“If it is something people really want, they will make it in here,” she said.
Now that the orange cones are moved out of the way, she knows there is a lot of traffic moving along U.S. 30 and hopes business will pick up.
State Rep. Renee Kosel (R-New Lenox) acknowledged that the law has “no teeth in it,” but it still is a good idea, she said.
Along U.S. 30, IDOT tried to accommodate as many people as possible, she said.
“I have never found IDOT unwilling to talk,” Kosel said.
As Homer Glen Mayor Jim Daley prepares for the widening of 159th Street, from I-355 to LaGrange Road, he said IDOT has tried to address all issues before construction begins so “there are no surprises.”
He said he has “always had a good working relationship with IDOT. They have been nothing but cooperative.”
Merchants along this roadway, however, are bracing for the impact that is to come when that street is widened from two to four lanes. Like U.S. 30, it will have unmountable medians, eliminating many existing left turns into businesses. The project could start next spring and may take a few years to complete.
The new law, business officials there said, is a step in the right direction.
“Anything they can do will be helpful,” said Sheri Law, owner of Sheri Law Art Glass, 12550 W. 159th St. “I avoid construction. It’s scary. People don’t know where to turn. Three years is a long time.”
“Anything that will help direct the public to a business is good,” said Bob Schmidt, of Wheel-Go Camping Inc., 13515 W. 159th St.
When IDOT buys his land for the wider roadway, he will lose valuable advertising space and have to erect a new sign.
“IDOT could care less. All they want to do is move traffic from I-355 to Orland Park,” he said.
George Muersch Jr., of Ace Hardware, 12121 W. 159th St., said he was unaware of the new law but believes it “will certainly help.” IDOT has worked with some businesses to reduce the medians and improve access along this major arterial street, but he has not yet worked out a solution for his store.
The new law “may keep me from getting a gun and shooting someone. At least we will have a leg to stand on,” Muersch said, wondering who will actually enforce the new law.
Orland Park officials will rely on IDOT’s website for information about the reconstruction and widening of LaGrange Road from 131st to 179th streets.
“We made a pledge to partner with them to keep businesses, schools and fire departments informed throughout the project,” village spokesman Joe LaMargo said. “We have been working on LaGrange Road with IDOT before the bill was signed into law. There’s always room for improvement.”
The village also will have updates on local construction projects on its own website at www.orland-park.il.us.
For information on all IDOT projects, visit www.dot.il.gov/projects.html