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How To Fix Old Lee Highway?

City Council receives citizen input on road improvements.

Residents of the neighborhoods surrounding Old Lee Highway shared their concerns on a plan for the road’s new look Tuesday, Dec. 6.

At a special City Council meeting with community members to discuss possible improvements to the road, city transportation director Alex Versoza described one of the main problems with Old Lee Highway: the amount of excess pavement on the side of the road. No uniform sidewalk exists along the length of the road because of the amount of pavement in sections of it, he said.

"There is no consistent sense of character due to sidewalks of varying widths," said Versoza.

Drivers turning out onto Old Lee Highway have poor sight distances, he said, while other drivers use the extra pavement to pass left-turning vehicles. While it is legal for drivers to pass left-turning vehicles on the right, said city police chief Rick Rappoport, many residents of the Old Lee Highway area described drivers passing them at high speeds.

In 2002, a Community Appearance Committee report suggested reducing the road width on Old Lee Highway to two lanes, reducing oversized intersections, and adding crosswalks, curbs, gutters and pedestrian trails. Last April, engineering firm EarthTech conducted a study on the Old Lee Highway corridor from Ridge Avenue to Layton Hall Drive. The study made several recommendations, both short-term and long-term, for improving the appearance and safety of Old Lee Highway.

FOR THE SHORT term, the study recommended removing excess pavement between Daniels Run Elementary School and Cornell Road, laying sod in its place, and completing the missing sections of the sidewalk between Cornell Road and Ridge Avenue. Together with new crosswalks and engineering costs, said Versoza, these improvements would total $300,000.

The more expensive long-term improvements, at about $3 million, would install new curbs and gutters with storm drains and an asphalt bike and pedestrian path on the north side of the road. The study also recommended additional crosswalks and striping and tree plantings for the long term.

The projected costs have most likely risen since the study was conducted, said Versoza, but completing the short-term improvements would lessen the cost of the final project.

"Our next stop would be to choose which of these recommendations to select," he said.

Top on the list of resident concerns was how wide the road would be if the improvements were completed. Typically, said David Summers of the Department of Public Works, roads such as Old Lee Highway have gravel shoulders of about 6 feet, bordered by a ditch. None of the residents wanted a shoulder this wide, however, fearing it would continue to allow cars to pass on the right.

"When I'm coming home from work, I'm always afraid when I'm making a left turn that someone is going to hit my right rear and spin me around, they're going so fast," said Irene Denhardt, a Country Club Hills resident

None of the residents wanted the curb and gutter to come right up to the driving lanes either. They used the section of Old Lee Highway just in front of Daniels Run Elementary as an example.

City public works director John Veneziano cited 30-foot-wide sections of University Drive as a sort of middle ground, with curbs and gutters but smaller shoulders.

Denhardt suggested putting up temporary concrete barriers to see what the width of the road would look like. A large-scale project like that might delay the improvements too much, said Mayor Rob Lederer, but testing the look of the road was a good idea.

LEDERER PROPOSED using temporary striping, like the City did when planning two-way traffic for downtown Fairfax, to see what the improved Old Lee Highway would look like.

"It's not going to prevent cars from passing, but it would allow you to envision what it's going to be like," he said.

Susan Miller and Tim Cook, presidents of the homeowner's associations at Country Club Hills and Old Lee Hills, suggested some changes and additional improvements, such as improving lighting along the road, adding brick crosswalks and moving stop signs at the intersections closer to the edge of Old Lee Highway.

Brick crosswalks would be safer and easier to see, said Miller. "No one wanted stoplights [at intersections], but we would like to see bigger definition in the crosswalks," she said.

Some areas use flags that pedestrians can pick up at intersections to improve their visibility while crossing the street, said resident Marbea Tammaro. The city could place these flags at intersections along Old Lee Highway, she said.

"There are a lot of older people in both our neighborhoods, a lot of children in both our neighborhoods," she said. "We need to look at how we can make it more safe so that cars can pause for people."

Resident David Meyer wanted to make Old Lee Highway a no-through-trucks zone. Eighteen-wheelers regularly pass through the corridor, he said, posing a hazard to drivers.

"If there was some way to route them onto Pickett Road or some other route, that may be some option to consider," he said

Adding street lights to Old Lee Highway like the ones along Main Street in downtown Fairfax would tie the areas together, said resident Bill Trencher, especially when downtown Fairfax undergoes redevelopment.

Summers agreed. "The study is mostly geometrical, but we'll always add lights when we need them," he said.