County construction in hindsight
By John Kretzer, Jr., P.E.
For more than 20 years, the Winnebago County Board began, stopped and started again, the extension of Harlem Road west across the Rock River from Illinois Route 251 to Illinois Route 2. During this 20-plus year period, Lynn Martin was the Tom Hawes of the Winnebago County Board in actually stopping this project.
The good side of this roller coaster ride was the acquisition of the necessary right-of-way which allowed the Juvenile Detention Center and the Forest Preserve Complex to be sited and constructed. In addition, a stormwater trunk line was constructed in Machesney Park, and a bridge over the Soo Line was completed.
The down side was the inability of the county board to make a decision.
In 1991, the Winnebago County Board decided to finish this project. To do so, the board was faced with seeking a new property tax to fund this project or to bypass the voters and issue alternative revenue bonds that would not require voter involvement, but would necessitate collecting tolls. Bond authorization for $14,500,000 was approved, $7,200,000 in bonds were sold, and a design consultant was engaged.
To be sure that the public was fully informed about this project, a public information meeting (PIM) was held in the Machesney Park Village Hall. Concerns were expressed about the length of the bridge, potential for creating an ice jam which would trigger flooding, paying 50 cents to cross the bridge, etc. During this public meeting, it was noted that the proposed bridge was the only crossing of the Rock River actually designated for the 100-year flood frequency.
Prior to beginning Phase 1, construction of the bridge, former County Board Chairman Tom Currier provided the leadership to resolve a please, may we problem with the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT).
When the project was completed three months early and at a final cost half of the initial bond authorization, a ribbon cutting was held to mark substantial completion. School kids came to sing a song about the bridge. Neighbors were there to recognize the tasteful treatment of the toll facility and the landscaping included in the construction. The Rockford Park District and the Village of Machesney Park celebrated inclusion of a bikeway/pedestrianway connecting the Sports Complex and the Machesney Park Mall, etc.
The Winnebago County Board then began a public debate of the toll to be charged, 50 cents or 25 cents. The Honorable Mary Ann Aiello, then a Democrat, raged against a 50-cent toll, knowing that to meet the bond repayment obligation, it would require doubling the traffic volume.
Little publicity was given to the Intergovernmental Cooperation Agreement between Winnebago County and IDOT that allowed the ultimate intersection of Harlem Road at Illinois Route 2 to be incorporated into the Toll Bridge project design by extending the Illinois Route 2 Expressway northward at no cost to Winnebago County.
It should be noted that the Winnebago County Board was so pleased with this use of alternative revenue bonds that additional bonds were authorized and issued, funding the reconstruction and extension of Spring Creek Road between Mulford Road and Perryville Road north to Harlem Road, and the reconstruction and extension of Mulford Road to Perryville Road.
If Lynn Martins view of the Rock River had prevailed, the accelerated construction program described above would have never transpired.
Perhaps the actions of the Winnebago County Board from 1991 to 1995 should be revisited when looking at the further extension of Perryville Road.
Kretzer was a former Winn. County engineer from Jan. 1992 to Aug. 1995. During that time,he built the toll bridge over the Rock River, extended Perryville Road to Harrison and reconstructed Spring Creek Road to Perryville. He now lives in Arizona.