Willow Road widening still work in progress

NORTHFIELD, Ill. The quaint suburb of Northfield is home to about 5,000 people. However, 24,000 motorists use Willow Road every day. A controversy over widening Willow has been brewing for more than 30 years and is about to hit its boiling point.

"We have young kids, frankly more than half of our kids in the village that have to cross Willow Road to get to the schools. And those people who have been proposing a wider four-lane road -- that would basically be a highway through our town -- have not been able to show it would not cut down on safety," said John Birkinbine, Northfield Village president.

Ten years ago, IDOT did a study to widen Willow Road. They came up with a three-lane plan, one lane in each direction with a turn lane at the intersections.

"The review has already found that that plan was flawed, both on the traffic and safety counts, as well as financially," said Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, (D) Evanston.

"What happens when you add the different movements at the signals, you no longer get that good progression of traffic. It actually made the traffic worse, not through Northfield, but it backed up past Illinois 43 into the neighboring communities," said Diane O'Keefe IDOT Deputy Director of Highways.

Further complicating things, emergency resurfacing is now under way after last year's rough winter left parts of Willow road nearly undriveable.

The resurfacing is supposed to be part of the redesigning, but the road is so deteriorated it couldn't wait for this controversy to be resolved.

The most recent state study for a context-sensitive design incorporates an underpass near two schools addresses safety concerns.

"I've got these three boys here, and for them to have to cross such a big road to get to school, to get to church, to get to the parks, frankly, terrifies me," said Liz Hayward, Northfield resident.

For the next several years, IDOT will conduct environmental and design studies for the four-lane Willow Road project, incorporating many high-tech safety features that will make Willow one of the first in the state using the context-sensitive design.

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