Country denies road fund shortage

Country denies road fund shortage

By Joe Baker

By Joe Baker

Senior Editor

Is the Harrison Avenue extension project in trouble? Will there be difficulty in completing Phase One?

Some members of the Winnebago County Board are saying the county highway department is out of money. Can they finish the initial portion of the project?

“Not without grants,” said board member Pete MacKay. County Engineer Joseph Vanderwerff disagreed. “We are not out of money,” he said. “We are finishing Phase One, which is Montague (Road) to Cunningham. We’ll probably start paving in July,” Vanderwerff added.

Vanderwerff said work on the bridge over the Chicago & Central Pacific Railroad should be completed by the end of this month or the first part of next month. Beyond that, a water main must be installed alongside the roadway, and some landscaping work is to be completed.

While Vanderwerff denied any problems with finances for the project, he did admit “there have been some increases.” He declined, however, to call these excesses cost overruns. “You have to look at the entire job,” he said. “There will be increases and decreases as we go along.”

A spokesman for the Illinois Department of Transportation said the estimated total cost of the Harrison Avenue project is somewhat more than $18 million.

The Rock River Times attempted to obtain the actual total cost of the project to date and the amount budgeted for it. Winnebago County Auditor Tom Ross told us: “We don’t actually have those totals by project. You need to call Joe Vanderwerff and clarify for him what numbers you need.”

Despite our efforts, we did not succeed in obtaining those figures. Vanderwerff, however, said he would have dollar amounts and budget figures available the day after publication.

The county, apparently, has a unique bookkeeping system which does not break down expenditures.

“I can’t get a straight answer out of those people,” MacKay said. Board member John Ekberg said he has received no numbers in connection with the project, but he intends to request them. “If I perceive a person is hiding information, then I have to go above them,” he said.

Vanderwerff claimed reports of water troubles on the project site are erroneous. “We didn’t have any water problems,” he said.

Jan Ditzler said: “We have a lake about 75 feet wide. It took more of our land. It’s just a mess.” Tom Ditzler added: “The land just stays wet. It’s never been wet before. The creek is up to the top of the bank all the time since they put those big pipes in.”

MacKay said he and a friend with engineering expertise calculated a minimum of 288,000 gallons of water a day were pumped from the site before the pipes were installed.

Vanderwerff said there were never any sink holes, just excavations for the drainage pipes. Other observers said several truckloads of fill have been dumped into these “excavations” in recent days.

An IDOT spokesman said bids will be sought June 15 on the next phase of the project from Cunningham Road to West State Street. That is projected to cost $3.5 million. Another $4.1 million will be earmarked for construction of the intersection of Harrison Avenue and U.S. 20.

Tom Ditzler said he is holding a check from the county for the property that was seized. He considers the amount inadequate and does not plan to cash it.

His wife had a pointed observation on the entire matter. “Money isn’t going to replace what they took from us,” she said.

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