ELWOOD – The Illinois Department of Transportation has plans to install a traffic signal and make other improvements near the entrance of the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood this year.
The state agency determined the intersection warranted a traffic signal several years ago when petitioned by the village, but plans are finally moving forward in conjunction with the federally funded statewide high-speed rail project.
“Funding is coming from our High Speed Rail Program which will allow for advanced installation. That likely will happen later this year, once we are in construction season,” IDOT spokeswoman Gianna Urgo said in an email.
The state agency also has plans to redesign the intersection so that Hoff Road on both the east and west sides of Route 53 is properly aligned, Elwood Deputy Village Administrator Max Bosso. A southbound right-turn lane will be added, potentially giving funeral processions safer access into the cemetery, Bosso said.
Unwanted 18-wheelers in recent months have illegally entered the cemetery upon getting lost on the way to the nearby intermodals, but the dynamic between trucks and funeral processions have been troublesome for some time, Elwood Police Chief Fred Hayes said.
This project has been years in the making, Hayes said, adding that he believes recent incidents in which truckers made a wrong turn and drove through the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in attempts to get back on the right path have spotlighted the issue.
“This issue may have shaken the money tree,” Hayes said. “I hope it does.”
Hayes is heavily involved with Safe Roads Illinois – the web-based regional safety campaign launched last year by Elwood. He said he hopes the campaign’s call for other solutions – such as a comprehensive sign system directing truck traffic away from Route 53 and to the Interstate 55/Arsenal Road entrance – are heard by IDOT.
Bosso said emails from IDOT show the state agency plans to release bid documents June 10 with a construction completion deadline of Dec. 31, 2016. Construction could take place this summer.
In fairness to truck drivers, Hayes said the now-shuttered Walter Strawn Drive – once a main entryway into the intermodals – still appears accessible on road navigation systems.
That issue would be alleviated if IDOT would install electronic messaging signage along Route 53 and Interstate 80, he said.
Urgo said IDOT continues to “work with all stakeholders involved on comprehensive long-term solutions that improve safety, mobility and promote economic development throughout the region.”
Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery Director Sean Baumgartner could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.