“I think ‘Middle Road’ is dead,” Schroeder said.
The city of Lockport, village of Homer Glen, Homer Township and Will County recently gave the go-ahead to begin a study re-evaluating the merits of the “Middle Road,” which originally was approved by the Will County Board in 2009 after first being discussed in 1999.
Middle Road – a curved north-south route that would begin at 159th Street – is part of a $600 million project that includes transforming an 11.5-mile stretch of mostly two-lane roads into four-lane roads, and a new four-lane bridge over the Des Plaines River. But Middle Road is one of the two controversial pieces of the project, the other being where to connect the bridge over the river. “It just doesn’t make any sense,” Schroeder said of Middle Road. “Anybody we show this map to, they say the same thing.”
The problem with it, many property owners and officials have said, is that the Middle Road option would be extremely costly because it would require buying farmland – such as Schroeder’s and others south of his lot – to build the new road.
The Eastern Coalition – comprised of Lockport, Homer Township and Homer Glen – wants to see the land kept for “better uses” when the market demands. The three are sharing the $96,400 cost of the new Phase 1 study. Lockport city officials aren’t fans of Middle Road but have stopped short of ruling it out completely and are waiting for the study to make a final determination.
If the study validates the proposal for an alternative to a new highway, Lockport then would commission a second study that would assess the environmental effect of the proposal.
That study would cost about $347,000, which Lockport alone would pay for “as the majority of the developable lands are in the city of Lockport jurisdiction,” according to a memo written by City Administrator Ben Benson. The project isn’t expected to happen in the next 30 years, and is being planned largely to accommodate future growth, despite frequent congestion on the Route 7 bridge over the Des Plaines River.
Opponents of the Middle Road option argue that expanding Gougar or Cedar roads is the most viable and cost-efficient choice.
The Middle Road route also would wipe out Schroeder’s neighbor’s home directly across the street. Mary Ellen White said she has been in the house since 1962. Between her home and William E. Young Elementary School is some open land, owned by the school district, where the road also would go through. That would leave the school bordered by roads on its east and west sides, where cars travel more than
45 mph. The district has formally opposed the Middle Road, too.
Schroeder and White are hoping the study puts an end to the Middle Road idea, which they believe was pushed by former county officials.
“We just want the Middle Road idea eliminated,” White said.
“We’re a proponent of using existing routes,” Schroeder said. “That’s our quest.”
“You can see the expense of land acquisitions to build this four-lane road,” White said, highlighting the road’s path that cuts through farmland between existing subdivisions. Benson cautioned in a previous Herald-News interview against jumping to conclusions just yet, saying that it might be best for the City Council to wait for a formal resolution against Middle Road.
“If the Gougar/Cedar options are not viable, we would still need to support some connection between Bruce Road and 159th Street for the project,” he said.
Will County Board member Tom Weigel, R-New Lenox, who has been against the Middle Road idea from the start, said Cedar Road already is planned to be a five-lane cross-section road by 2040 anyway.
Weigel said people thought 10 years ago that the Middle Road might be needed because it was predicted that Cedar Road would become Homer Glen’s main thoroughfare for its downtown, but that hasn’t happened.
Both he and Schroeder said Middle Road would be an unnecessary duplication of north-south roadways.
The Middle Road was pitched as a Strategic Regional Arterial road, or SRA. By definition, an SRA does not cut through and take new lands, it improves on existing roads.
“It was problematic from the beginning,” Schroeder said.
A “back pocket” option would be for Lockport to spend another $100,000 for a separate study to validate a possible Bruce Road exit at Interstate 355, Benson said.
Schroeder said the land at the intersection of Bruce and I-355 already is bought up and an interchange will be built at some point.
HOMER TOWNSHIP – Richard Schroeder stood in the ditch of his front yard along 163rd Street, imagining what it could become.
There was a time, years ago, when he thought a county highway would one day plow through the ground under his feet.
Not only that, but he and his wife’s 19th century farmhouse and machine shed would get knocked over. The four-lane road would curve through the
70-acre soybean farm, and make it impossible to get from one side to another to farm it.
But it seems as though that won’t happen anymore.
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