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Riverside board approves IDOT letter of intent for safety improvement on First Avenue

Riverside Town Hall
Riverside Town Hall

RIVERSIDE – The Riverside Board of Trustees voted 5-1 at a meeting Friday to approve the signing of a letter of intent with the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) to green light a plan to improve safety for vehicles and pedestrians at the intersection of First and Forest avenues and Ridgewood Road near Riverside Brookfield High School.

Trustees and members of the public in attendance would have liked to have seen IDOT's proposal for increased safety measures at the intersection go further than the plan put forth. However, trustees acknowledged the need to approve the plan at hand while continuing to work on additional proposals, including adding a pedestrian bridge or tunnel near the intersection, which has been in discussion for decades.

Public comment at the meeting largely focused on the potential for tragedy at the intersection, which is heavily used by RB students crossing First Avenue from Riverside.

Randy Brockway, a District 96 boardmember, told trustees that he was invested in making the intersection safer with the knowledge that his daughter would one day attend RB. Brockway said he was disappointed that IDOT had yet to share at 2013 safety audit of the intersection with local governments and school boards and suggested that the safety measured needed to go further.

"It's a unique situation," Brockway said. "We can do something special here ... something that can be a model [for pedestrian safety in the area]."

Likewise, Tiffany McManus, the mother of a RB student, urged the board to pursue more drastic safety improvements, and to think of the pedestrians as primarily students and the town's children in their consideration.

Thomas Sisulak, a coach at RB, warned that the community's safety concerns were primarily directed at preventing a tragedy, and used a Palos Heights freshman's death at a similarly busy intersection at 104th Avenue as an example of what could happen if conditions weren't improved.

IDOT is proposing increasing First Avenue's four-lanes to six lanes to reduce traffic congestion that occurs largely around rush hours near the school. The $1.2 million project also calls for upgrading the size of the traffic light heads, switching them to LED and improving pedestrian signals at the intersection with countdown signals that let pedestrians know how much time they have to cross before the light changes, according to Theresa Pelletiera, a project engineer with IDOT.

"I can unequivocally say this intersection will be safer [after the proposed changes]," Pelletiera said.

Additional changes include improved pedestrian crossing markings, adding designated right turn lanes to reduce traffic backups, and widening First Avenue while also reducing lane size and resurfacing the roadway.

Trustee Doug Pollock had numerous questions for Pelletiera about the proposed changes, which included asking if IDOT had considered lowering the posted speed limit from 35 mph to 25 mph, if additional pedestrian crossing signs could be added and also pushed for a bridge or tunnel accompaniment to the intersection.

Pelletiera said lowering the speed limit would hurt efforts to reduce congestion and said the current proposal didn't have the budget for a bridge or tunnel.

Trustee Jean Sussman urged trustees to vote in favor of signing the agreement, as the bridge or tunnel plan was not currently possible under the proposal, but significant safety improvements could be made and the board could continue to work on a possible bridge in the future.

Trustees proposed working with the villages of Brookfield and North Riverside, as well as area school districts and the Brookfield Zoo to coordinate on the bridge plan that would benefit all involved, they said.

Riverside Police Chief Tom Weitzel said he agreed with the current proposal and said, in his opinion, the intersection would be made safer as a result of trustees approval.

"There is no perfect solution," Weitzel said. "But I think it will be a dramatic improvement for both pedestrians and vehicles."

At the vote, trustees approved the village to sign the letter of intent with IDOT, with only Pollock voting against. However, Pollock said after the vote that he felt better about the safety improvements after the discussion than he had in the past, but voted no to include a record the board's continued concerns.

Work at the intersection is planed to start this summer.

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