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Tree removal marks important early step on road to Route 59 widening

Traffic backs up along southbound Route 59 near Diehl Road Thursday August 16 2012. Route 59 is set undergo constructias

Traffic backs up along southbound Route 59 near Diehl Road on Thursday, August 16, 2012. Route 59 is set to undergo construction as part of a widening project from New York Street to Ferry Road. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 18, 2012 6:27AM

And so it begins.

Trees will start coming down soon along Route 59 from the Westfield Fox Valley mall all the way up to Interstate 88 to make way for the long-discussed widening of the heavily-traveled road.

According to Naperville officials, the trees in the public right-of-way will be taken down through the end of October. The project may also include removing some trees on roads that intersect Route 59.

During the removal project, there may be some short-term lane closures on Route 59 that may back up traffic, city officials said. Also, Illinois Department of Transportation contractors will be performing patching and resurfacing on Route 59 from north of Ferry Road to North Aurora Road during the tree removal. Work on that is expected to begin in late August and will continue through the end of October, causing more traffic delays in the area.

Drivers should get used to that feeling, as the massive road widening project will tie-up traffic in a big way for quite a while. Project proponents, though, think all the hassle will be worth it in the long run.

Traffic jams

Anyone who drives Route 59 on a daily basis knows that the road is busy, especially during rush hours. More than 50,000 vehicles a day use the stretch of Route 59 that will be widened.

“This is a huge link for hundreds of retail, commercial and residential vehicles,” said Allison Albrecht, public information coordinator for Naperville’s Transportation, Engineering and Development group.

She said that Route 59 experiences what the city considers heavy traffic 14 hours a day, including on weekends. During the worst periods, it can take 30 minutes to travel from the Fox Valley mall area to north of Interstate 88, city officials said.

“This is a highly congested area,” Albrecht said.

That much traffic also leads to wrecks. According to Albrecht, the part of the road to be widened experiences almost 400 traffic accidents a year.

Lt. Todd Rohlwing of the Illinois State Police said that widening Route 59 can only help to make things safer.

“Anytime you have a big growth in population as you have had in this area, it taxes the infrastructure,” he said.

The plan

Backers say that the planned widening will help ease the traffic congestion and make the road safer to use.

The $118 million project includes:

Widening of the road to three through lanes in each direction for the full length of the project.

Additional turn lanes and through lanes at key intersections will be added and existing turn lanes will be extended to accommodate longer traffic queues.

Access from many of the smaller side streets and driveways will be restricted or eliminated to reduce congestion and improve safety.

Sidewalks will be installed along Route 59 wherever practical and a bicycle path is also being considered.

A “diverging diamond” configuration will be implemented on the Route 59 bridge over Interstate 88 that planners say will make traffic flow better.

That configuration was somewhat controversial and was the subject of public meetings to get resident input. Diverging diamond schemes are often used in Europe, but are rare in the United States. There are a few diamond interchanges in Missouri, Utah and Tennessee.

The diamond design would move traffic on Route 59 to the opposite side of the road at a traffic signal and allow vehicles to move onto the I-88 ramps without stopping. As it moves through the interchange, traffic staying on Route 59 would eventually move back to its original lane.

What happens now

There actually have been some signs already that the big project is gearing up. Naperville recently painted “25 mph” on the streets leading into two subdivisions along Route 59 in preparation for the start of construction.

As motorists look for ways to get around the construction zone, they may begin to drive through the neighborhoods looking for a short cut, and will need to be reminded of the speed limit.

Along with the tree removal, IDOT is also expected to begin relocating utilities along the path of the widening and also move a pump station located near the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway crossing.

When the trees and utilities are out of the way, the main work on the widening can begin. It is expected this phase of the project will begin in the spring and continue through 2014 and maybe into 2015.

So traffic backups will begin soon and may last for a few years. But according to area officials, the headache to come over the next couple of years will pay off big in the end. That’s because the road they call “the economic backbone of the western suburbs” is a primary commercial corridor for Naperville and Aurora.

“The much-needed project will improve mobility and safety, while creating jobs and economic development throughout the region,” said Guy Tridgell, spokesman for IDOT.

He said that state officials realize how important Route 59 is to local residents and business.

“This is a project that has been in the works for years and one that has been needed to address problems of a growing area,” Tridgell said. “... The area around Route 59 has been one of the fastest growing in the state, and this is clearly one of the more important north-south highways.”

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