LOCKPORT – Traffic sometimes can reach a slow creep or even a standstill when passing through downtown Lockport.
Whether travelers are entering from the west on the bridge over the Des Plaines River, known as West Ninth Street, or traveling north to south on Route 171, known as State Street, years of development outside the downtown are continuing to overburden its roadways.
That’s why the Illinois Department of Transportation reached out to the city of Lockport three years ago with plans to redesign State Street, Mayor Steve Streit said.
The street currently does not have turn lanes, and that often backs up traffic while one or two cars wait to turn at an intersection – particularly at the crossing of West Ninth and State streets.
IDOT’s proposal was to eliminate on-street parking to add turn lanes on State Street, a four-lane road.
“We responded back that we understand, but we’re trying to make a pedestrian-friendly downtown,” Streit said. “We asked if they can work with us, and we submitted alternate ideas that included both on-street parking and turn lanes.”
The parties agreed to narrow the traffic lanes a bit and remove a foot of sidewalk on each side of the road to make room for turn lanes.
IDOT also agreed to extend curbs at the intersection to allow for more pedestrian space.
The design, Streit said, is aimed at improving safety and suppressing motorists’ tendency to speed through the area.
IDOT is going out to bid for the project this spring.
However, construction won’t start until spring 2018, Streit said. In the meantime, the village is getting a head start on downtown improvements by fixing Commerce Street and adding a temporary parking lot to make it easier for people to park and walk downtown.
The city also has cleaned up the Hamilton Street parking lot, which has been deteriorating, and improvements will be made to the back ends of State Street lots, Streit said.
Some work already has taken place underground – the city has had a long-standing infrastructure problem with the vaults in the basements of State Street buildings.
Some property owners use the vaults, which are beneath the sidewalks. Other vaults have since collapsed. Streit said that IDOT, which has jurisdiction of the roadway and sidewalks, agreed to fill the vaults while the city agreed to shore up walls inside the buildings.
During the next several years, the city and the Lockport Chamber of Commerce have agreed to work with other groups and businesses downtown to maintain the foot traffic leading into shops, bars and restaurants during construction.
Lockport Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lisa Kairis said that involved parties will get the word out that, despite the construction, downtown Lockport still will be open for business.
The reconstruction also will include an enhanced streetscape to make the downtown more visually appealing, Streit said.
The city plans to use recovered limestone from the old Seven Arches Bridge that since have been in storage, as well as to add planters and trees downtown. Outdoor seating areas also will be designated.
Kairis said the reconstruction project is vital to downtown.
“We’re hoping the project does help solidify businesses in the area and businesses that will be coming here in the future,” Kairis said. “It will be more attractive to them to come here, to a streetscape that is better looking.”
More underground work is on the to-do list. The city plans to replace 50-year-old undersized water mains when IDOT pulls State Street apart.
Streit acknowledged the challenges older towns can encounter when redesigning their downtowns. But he said that it will be worth it in the end.
“When it’s done, it makes for a renaissance to completely turn things around,” Streit said.