Study Process and Schedule
The best way to keep updated is to continue to check the East Side Highway website. The website will continue to evolve, and updates will become more frequent as the CSS process moves along as it will become important to provide up-to-date information to stakeholders. Additionally, the East Side Highway comment line (217-373-8901) will provide information on upcoming meetings.
The Context Sensitive Solutions Policy for Illinois can be found in the IDOT Bureau of Design and Environment Manual (Chapter 19 available on the IDOT website).
A project of this magnitude takes significant time and planning. If we do not start working “Today”, the most effective alignment may be blocked by development “Tomorrow” when the project is vital to accommodate growth. The ESH is being planned for the year 2035 based upon adopted land use and forecasted population and employment growth.
Currently, the project is not funded for construction.
The Feasibility Study, the Corridor Study, and the Environmental Assessment (EA) are different types of studies with different objectives. The objective of the 2002 Feasibility Study was to determine if an east side transportation facility to address existing and future transportation conditions was practical and feasible. The objective of the 2007 Corridor Study was to identify a 500 foot wide corridor location for a proposed roadway. The Corridor Study evaluated a range of corridors and identified the location of a recommended corridor. This phase of the study provided a defined corridor that the affected local agencies could use for planning purposes until funding was secured for a complete EA. Much of the Corridor Study work was developed with the understanding that it would be used in the EA. The Corridor Study identified numerous areas where additional detailed studies are needed; these detailed studies will be completed during the EA. The EA will evaluate a wide range of alignments and alternatives to determine their impacts on the human and natural environment. The report will identify measures to avoid, minimize, or mitigate for any adverse impacts. The objective of the EA is to identify a preferred alternative that meets the purpose and need and minimizes environmental impacts. The EA is not a refinement of the Corridor Study’s recommended alternative. The EA will assess a full range of transportation improvement alternatives. The corridors previously studied will be examined for compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Other new alternatives may be identified during the EA process. At the conclusion of the EA the preferred alternative will have been approved by Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT).
Yes, much of the work done in the Corridor Study will be used during the EA. The Problem Statement and Purpose and Need Statement developed with stakeholder input during the Corridor Study will provide the starting point for the EA. Corridors developed during the Corridor Study that meet the Purpose and Need will be re-examined during the EA, and some will be studied in greater detail. New corridors may also be identified as potential alternatives for consideration. Comments and input received from the public during the Corridor Study will be considered and incorporated into the EA.
Based upon public input received during the Corridor Study, the project team is evaluating east/west improvements in conjunction with the development of an East Side Highway. As a result, the study limits were extended to include the east/west routes leading into Bloomington-Normal.
As part of the alternative development, all modes will be considered, including access across a proposed ESH. Existing and planned bicycle accommodations have been inventoried and will be considered as part of the EA. A Focus Working Group (FWG) composed of local citizens has been created to address how alternate modes of transportation can be maximized through the development of an ESH.
The ESH EA Study began in the summer of 2010. The schedule anticipates a final alternative being approved in 2014.
At the conclusion of the ESH EA Study, the location of the preferred alternative for the ESH will be identified. East-west routes, bicycle, transit, or other transportation improvements may also be recommended as part of the ESH EA. Upon a Finding of No Significant Impact from the EA, the final design and land acquisition can commence. Funding is currently not established for the final design or construction phases.
The EA will conclude the planning for the ESH. Land use and transportation planning will continue as adopted plans will be reviewed and further refined to help ensure that a comprehensive development strategy is maintained in meeting future mobility, congestion, and safety needs.
At present, Phase II (Detailed Engineering) and Phase III (Construction Phase) are not yet funded. One of the reasons for performing the Phase I (Environmental Assessment) is to determine if the project should go forward. As such, construction funding is often not available for projects until the Phase I study has been approved by the FHWA. The source of funding for construction has not been determined. Construction funding can come from a variety of sources. There are many Federal programs which fund construction projects, some State funds are available, and some funding may come from the County or City.
The agency responsible for maintaining the ESH has not yet been determined. That will be determined later in the project process.
Purpose and Need
The purpose of the project is to improve local and regional mobility and access that accommodates the growth forecasted and provided for on the east side of the Bloomington-Normal area.
The need for this project is based on the inability of the current transportation system to accommodate projected traffic volumes and provide access for the future growth on the east side of the Bloomington-Normal area.
The funding for this project comes from the “Illinois Jobs Now!” Capital Bill. The Illinois Jobs Now! program specifically identified funds for preliminary engineering on the East Side Highway. Capital Bill funds can only be used for projects specifically identified by the legislature or the governor’s office. For more information on the “Illinois Jobs Now!” program visit the website at: http://www2.illinois.gov/jobsnow/Pages/default.aspx
How can I trust that the data used in this project is not being shaped to fit the desires of government agencies?
Through the Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS) process, the public will be involved at every major step of the project development. The Purpose and Need Statement, which was developed with stakeholder input during the Corridor Study, will be refined based on public input, the alternatives will be developed based on public input, and the criteria used to evaluate the alternatives will be developed using public input. Stakeholders are encouraged to sign up for the advisory groups so they can work directly with the project team throughout the project process. The project team will post project documents on the East Side Highway website for public review as the project progresses. The study is being conducted in an open and transparent manner, based on factual information. As the EA progresses, the project documents will be updated with the most current data available. The data source references will be listed in project documents.
The land use plan was developed based upon historical growth trends in McLean County since 1970 and recent national estimates and forecasts. It has been noted that the recent economic downturn has caused employment to decline in McLean County, Illinois, and the U.S. As the EA progresses, the most current national, state, and local census data and employment/population trends will be used to ensure that the growth rates are credible. The 2011 national forecast for all states and counties was used as an input to the EA (Woods & Poole Economics) and cites Bloomington-Normal as an “area which (is) expected to have relatively rapid employment and population growth over the next three decades.
Is the East Side Highway being designed to induce urban sprawl by assuming “If you build it they will come”?
The Bloomington-Normal metropolitan area has been expanding to the east for some time. The metro area’s comprehensive plan designates continued land development and growth to the east. The East Side Highway will be needed to support this eastern development, planned by the Bloomington, Normal, McLean County, and the public. A road can induce sprawl when not built as part of a comprehensive land development strategy. Carefully coordinated and planned roads are among the most effective means of implementing desired plans for harmonious land use development. This study is designed to coordinate land use and transportation planning, while meeting future mobility needs, minimizing future levels of congestion, and promoting transportation safety within the study area. Adopted comprehensive plans for the area formed the basis for predicting future travel demand requirements and have been integral in this planning process.
Why is the growth rate used in the land use plan so high? Bloomington/Normal will not grow that fast.
The land use plan was developed based upon historical growth trends in McLean County since 1970. Over this period of time the population in this area has grown at a rate of approximately 1.2% per year. The 2035 land use plan assumes a growth rate similar to this. It has been noted that the Great Recession of 2008-2009 has caused employment to decline in McLean County, Illinois, and the U.S. However, the unemployment rate for the Bloomington-Normal Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) (McLean County) is the lowest among all Illinois MSA’s. As the EA progresses the study team will use the most current census data and employment trends to ensure the growth rates are credible.
In comparing the 2035 land use plan with current conditions, there are additional future areas of growth anticipated that have yet to be developed. The 2035 land use plan for the Bloomington-Normal metropolitan area may be accessed via computer at: http://www.mcplan.org/transportation/long_range/longrangeplan.html
It is acknowledged that growth will occur throughout the Bloomington-Normal urbanized area – on all sides of the community. The goal of the East Side Highway EA is to identify improvements necessary on the east side which will accommodate managed growth and address future mobility and safety needs. As needs are identified and funding becomes available Bloomington, Normal, and McLean County will strive to be proactive accommodating planned growth throughout the community. For example, on the west side studies have been completed for the extension of Mitsubishi Motorway south of IL 9.
As the EA progresses, the most current national, state, and local census data and employment/population trends will be used to ensure that the growth rates are credible. The project team continues to monitor various resources to verify the forecasts. Additional sources used for employment forecasting include Woods & Poole Economic and the Illinois Department of Employment Security, with the latter providing monthly updates of employment conditions. The ESH is being planned to accommodate Year 2035 traffic. It is important to plan for the future so that when the need occurs, there is a transportation system in place that can accommodate the growth. Should that growth not be realized, the highway construction schedule can be adjusted.
It is recognized that the recent economic downturn has caused employment to decline in McLean County, in the State of Illinois, and in the U.S. The population and employment forecasts were revised from the previous Corridor Study in light of the recent economic downturn. Even with revised forecasts, there is a continued need to plan for this project.
The 2035 projected no build traffic (what will happen if no ESH is built) is based on the 2035 Land Use Plan, population and employment projections, the 2035 adopted Long Range Transportation Plan, historical growth rates, and existing and predicted mode shares. It assumes that those projects already programmed in the region’s Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) and planned beyond the TIP schedule, will be in place by 2035.
Shouldn’t the project focus be to address east/west traffic in place of or in addition to north/south traffic?
The scope of the project addresses the study of a transportation infrastructure to accommodate anticipated growth on the east side. An important component of transportation on the east side is access to both I-55 and I-74. While the study will address improvements to east-west streets within the project study area, to look only at east/west roads would not address access to the Interstate system. Traffic volumes will continue to increase through Towanda and Downs and eventually overload the existing two-lane streets through these communities. This traffic growth will result in severe congestion and unsafe road conditions. The proposed alternative will need to provide improved access to I-74 and I-55 that relieves congestion in these two communities. To accommodate anticipated growth on the east side the traffic modeling that will be performed for this study will likely identify east/west routes and a north/south route that need to be improved or built. Recommendations to that effect will be included in the final report.
Traffic modeling will be completed during the EA. The model will identify east/west routes, or other improvements that could be considered as part of future planning efforts. Recommendations to that effect will be included in the final report.
All roads and streets will experience traffic growth over time. The project team will model traffic growth for year 2035 based upon the adopted land use plan for that year. Growth on Towanda-Barnes Road and other roads and streets within the project study area will be evaluated based upon the various corridors being considered for the East Side Highway.
Yes, an Origin-Destination study was completed in 2010. You can read more about the study here.
When developing a transportation project two sets of data are used: a base, or existing year data set and a forecasted year data set, which in this case is year 2035. From these data, both existing and potential future transportation operations are assessed. The growth in traffic numbers is generated using Travel Demand Models that are developed for the project study area for the year 2035. As one of its primary inputs, the model uses the 2035 socioeconomic forecasts for the region that were developed using the most current published data available for the region. To determine the design characteristics (e.g., facility type, speed limits, location) of a new or improved facility, the future traffic data is evaluated.
Alternative Development and Evaluation
Why is the Central Illinois Regional Airport (CIRA) being considered in determining a location for the East Side Highway?
CIRA is and will continue to be a major traffic generator and economic engine on the east side of Bloomington Normal. CIRA is not the main driver of this project; it is one of many traffic generators/destinations included as part of the study.
One component of the study is to investigate the placement of utilities within a future East Side Highway corridor. The potential of including the Enbridge pipeline within the corridor will be considered along with the full range of alternatives. It’s important to note, however, that location must work with the Purpose and Need.
The alternatives were developed by the Community Working Group (CWG) and the Project Study Group (PSG). The CWG is a group of local stakeholders who volunteered to serve as representatives of the public. The CWG advises the PSG at key steps in the EA process. The PSG is a group composed of local and state government and transportation officials.
The initial range of alternatives evaluated included 129 north-south Build Alternatives, a No-Build Alternative, a Transportation System Management (TSM)/Travel Demand Management (TDM) Alternative, a transit only alternative, and an east-west only alternative. Read more about the alternatives here.
The alternatives are screened based upon numerous environmental impacts and engineering considerations. During the course of the EA, the alternatives are narrowed down through a five-step process. The steps are 1) Initial Screening, 2) Purpose & Need Screening, 3) Macro Analysis, 4) Alignment Analysis, and 5) Environmental Assessment Analysis. You can read more about each step here.
The No-Build Alternative assumes that the ESH will not be built. The No-Build Alternative includes all current planned transportation improvements other than the ESH. The No-Build Alternative is included in the ESH study. Although it does not meet the Purpose and Need of the project it is carried through the EA and serves as a baseline for comparison with the Build Alternatives. If, in the course of the EA, all of the remaining alignments are found to have significant environmental impacts that outweigh the No-Build Alternative’s inability to meet the Purpose and Need, the Federal and State resource agencies could select the No-Build Alternative as the Preferred Alternative.
Some of the alternatives considered were eliminated during the Corridor Study. Why did they come back?
The EA assesses a full range of transportation improvement Build Alternatives, as well as the No-Build Alternative. Corridors previously studied that meet the Purpose and Need will be re-examined for compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other federal and state policies. Other new alternatives not previously considered were identified during the EA process.
One goal of the ESH EA is to select a preferred alternative that minimizes community and environmental impacts. Widening Towanda Barnes Road was included in the range of alternatives but results in disproportionately high impacts to residences, commercial buildings, and parks when compared to the other alternatives under consideration. Thus, alternatives using Towanda Barnes Road were eliminated during the Macro Analysis Evaluation.
An improvement between Lexington to Leroy was considered but not evaluated in detail because such an alternative does not meet the Purpose & Need of the ESH project. Lexington-Leroy Road is a north-south route located approximately ten miles east of the Bloomington-Normal urban core and approximately five miles east of the eastern boundary of the 2035 Land Use Plan. Based on the analysis of similar alternatives in the 2009 ESH Corridor Report, a Lexington-Leroy Road alternative would not adequately improve access to or mobility on the major roads in the study area and would not accommodate managed growth on the east side due to its distance from the eastern planned growth area. Therefore, an improved Lexington-Leroy Road cannot meet the Purpose & Need of the project.
Can impacts be calculated on a per mile basis so longer alternatives aren’t viewed as less favorable?
NEPA requires the evaluation of social, economic, and environmental impacts resulting from each alternative. The total impacts resulting from each alternative are calculated and compared. If the longest alternative results in the fewest impacts to the human and natural environment it may be selected as the Preferred Alternative. The impacts per mile do not influence the alternative screening process.
Three different facility type options were considered for the north-south Build Alternatives: a freeway, an expressway, and an arterial. The freeway option is recommended as the most appropriate facility for the ESH. It is the best option to accommodate future traffic volumes, enhance mobility, provide appropriate access, and reduce crash potential. The freeway consists of four travel lanes and will be a limited access control roadway.
As stated in the ESH Purpose and Need Statement, the purpose of the ESH is to “Provide improved north-south and east-west mobility to and from residential areas and job centers.” The recommended facility type under consideration, a limited access freeway, is anticipated to include interchanges to provide access to and from the ESH and east-west connectivity, at approximately two-mile intervals (per IDOT guidelines) at major crossroads. It is anticipated there will be grade separations allowing east-west connectivity but no access at the other intermediate roads. Specific interchange locations are still being studied.
Numerous alternatives that were located to the east of the remaining alignments were developed and evaluated. These alternatives were eliminated for a number of reasons, including the inability to meet the Purpose and Need of the project. Some eastern alternatives were eliminated due to a higher number of farmland impacts in comparison to other alternatives. The far eastern alternatives are less compatible with future land use plans and may encourage sprawl or other unintended negative land use consequences.
The proximity of the alternatives to existing and planned residential development was considered during the alternative evaluation process. As the EA process goes forward, both direct and indirect impacts of the ESH will be analyzed in detail. This analysis will include studying direct impacts such as acquisition of residences, and farmland conversion as well as potential impacts to land use, noise levels, air quality, community impacts, and water quality.
Effects to identified environmental resources including farmland and farm severances will be evaluated with attempts to minimize impacts. Public input will be sought to help identify evaluation criteria and determine which alternative best meets the needs of the McLean County, Bloomington, and Normal.
The EA will include a detailed noise assessment for the Preferred Alternative. The assessment will identify all sensitive land uses (residences, parks, schools, etc., as defined by FHWA traffic noise regulation) where there is a potential for noise impacts. The assessment will identify existing noise levels and calculate the change in these levels associated with the proposed alternatives. The analysis will be conducted following Federal and State traffic noise regulations and policies.
Noise walls are typically considered for noise mitigation. In keeping with IDOT’s traffic noise assessment policy, any noise abatement measure must be determined both feasible (can it be constructed and will it achieve a specified traffic noise reduction level) and reasonable (a combination of noise reduction goals and a benefit-cost analysis) in order to be considered by IDOT for implementation. Where noise walls are found to be both reasonable and feasible, the public and immediate property owners will be notified. A public meeting or hearing will present the results of the traffic noise analysis and proposed abatement measures. The viewpoints on proposed noise walls will be solicited from residents who would benefit from the abatement, and the viewpoints determine if a noise wall will be constructed.
The impact, if any, on property values will likely vary depending on the location of the property in proximity to the project. Some properties may see an increase in property value due to the improved accessibility of the properties. Other properties may see little or no change in property value. Property valuation is determined from a variety of factors, many of which are not related to the proposed transportation project (such as market performance).
The alternative evaluation process includes a detailed analysis of the environmental effects of the alternatives under consideration. Farmland impacts, including severed tracts, tracts with access change, and prime farmland are evaluated during the alternatives evaluation process. Alternatives with disproportionately high impacts will be eliminated. Additional agricultural impacts will be analyzed in detail in the Environmental Assessment Analysis. At that time, the alignments will be refined, the number of impacted farms will be determined in addition to number and acreage of landlocked parcels, uneconomical remnants, miles of adverse travel per tract, and tract severances. Access to residences and farm tracts will also be evaluated in detail. The process results in the selection of an alternative that minimizes impacts to farmland as well as many other environmental and socio-economic criteria.
Safety is also an important component of the ESH project. The proximity to schools and areas such as parks is considered and safety will be studied. The ESH will be designed with the safety of its users in mind.
During Phase II final design (after the EA is complete), coordination with impacted property owners will assist in the identification of field tile locations. Exploration trenching will be conducted on both sides of the right-of-way prior to construction to locate any unknown tile that may be impacted by the newly constructed roadway. If any are found, they are replaced within the right-of-way with stronger concrete pipe to protect against the structural load of the new roadway.
The impacts of the alternatives on the Kickapoo Creek watershed were considered in both the Macro Analysis and Alignment Analysis evaluation of alternate alignments. Impacts considered included acres of wetlands affected, acres of floodplain affected, number of stream crossings, and acres of riparian (or bank vegetation) affected. These impacts were considered cumulatively, and alignments with disproportionately high impacts were eliminated. None of the alignments carried forward for analysis in the Environmental Assessment Analysis cross the main branch of Kickapoo Creek. Impacts to wetlands, watersheds, and water quality will be investigated in detail during the Environmental Assessment Analysis for the alignments remaining under consideration. A Focus Working Group (FWG) composed of local citizens has been being to address how to incorporate sustainability in the ESH design and construction.