The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) is preparing to expand Kishwaukee Street from Harrison Avenue to 15th Street. This project will result in IDOT taking all of the land that is available between the structures on either side of the road. Some buildings will have to be demolished, and some will have to have porches removed so the state can take the land. The remaining properties will be left with little or no separation between the buildings and the property line. This expansion will severely affect the quality of the properties along Kishwaukee Street.
The proximity of the residential buildings to the property line will make them less appealing to residents. The quality of residential real estate is tied to the demand for its use. Without demand, there is less motivation to maintain the properties. Some owners will fight to keep their property in good condition, but many of the buildings will continue to decline. The properties that fail will further detract from those that are maintained. The many vacant lots that will be created by demolitions will look like typical vacant lots, overgrown and littered. Responsible owners and tenants are not interested in living in areas this project will create.
Many of the properties along Kishwaukee Street are used for commercial purposes. These businesses rely on the separation between their buildings and the road for customer parking and for trucks to deliver and receive materials. How will these businesses continue to operate once their land is taken? Many may decide it is easier to relocate than to conduct business on a property that no longer meets their needs. Would these properties attract other businesses to the area? This project will result in a road lined with buildings that are difficult to use in a way that benefits the neighborhood.
Representatives from IDOT acknowledge this project was not developed with consideration to context sensitive design. Context sensitive design is a standard intended to develop road projects that are integrated into the community in a manner that is beneficial to the area. The state legislature, through public act 093-0545, directed IDOT to adhere to the concept of context sensitive design. This act was effective Jan. 1, 2004. The plan to expand Kishwaukee Street was presented at a public hearing in September 2003.
Planning for this project began prior to public act 093-0545 becoming law; therefore, IDOT believes the impact this project will have on property can be ignored. That interpretation of the law is questionable. The public will have limited opportunity to contest that assumption because the state is using a quick-take procedure to seize the property they want. This tactic allows the state to take ownership of what it wants now and let the property owner fight for compensation at a later date. Once the state owns the land in front of the structures on Kishwaukee Street, the ability to prevent the deterioration of this area will be lost.
Kishwaukee Street is an artery into the city. The harm being caused by this project will not only affect the property owners, it will impact the image of Rockford presented to people as they travel along the road. Will the new pavement be noticed, or will the properties beside the road be the focus of attention? No plan exists to address how these properties will be improved after the road expansion is complete. The most likely scenario is that they will not. The area will decline further until the properties fail completely and are demolished. How long will that transition take? This project should be an opportunity to create an entry into the city we can be proud of. We are wasting that opportunity.
The irony surrounding this project is that no one seems to be able to justify why this road expansion is important enough to damage the surrounding properties in this way. This project does not seem to be the first choice our city government would have for investment by the state. The attitude from the state is that the money could be spent elsewhere; we should be grateful. Is this is the best use of our tax dollars? The state government does not reinvest our taxes back into this area as it should. The citizens of Rockford should be concerned about what is happening on Kishwaukee Street. Someone needs to explain the necessity for this expansion before the project begins and take responsibility for the impact this project will have in the years to come. Who should be held accountable? Everyone affected by this project deserves to know.
Paul Arena is the president of the Rockford Apartment Association.
from the July 5-10, 2007, issue