Aldermen give green light to one-way street study

February 24, 2010

• News and notes from the Feb. 22 Rockford City Council meeting

By Stuart R. Wahlin
Staff Writer

Feb. 22, Rockford aldermen approved a $149,979.62 engineering agreement with T.Y. Lin International, with an office in Chicago, for a feasibility study regarding downtown’s one-way streets on the city’s west side.

For years, city leaders have heard complaints regarding the confusion and frustration caused by the downtown area’s one-way streets. The feasibility study will look into turning these streets into two-ways, particularly Main and Church streets.

Ald. Doug Mark (R-3) described the removal of the downtown pedestrian mall, which returned two-way traffic to Main Street downtown late last year, as “a major step” in connecting the north and south legs of Main Street to bring continuity to the city’s cultural destinations. He said he wants that trend to continue.

“The city council has long supported our ability to bring people to our downtown, instead of around downtown,” he said. “I think this is getting us quite a long way on those efforts. …I think it’s important and critical that we continue that process.”

Although all aldermen agreed elimination of downtown’s one-way streets would be a step in the right direction, Ald. Ann Thompson-Kelly (D-7) argued the expenditure could not be justified at a time when so many sacrifices have to be made.

“I question spending $149,000 for a traffic study when there’s so many other pressing things on our plates with our budget deficit and looking at a deficit for next year,” she noted. “I’m not saying it doesn’t need to be done—yes, it does. What I’m saying is, is now the right time to do it?

“I do disagree with it coming out of the fund, the sales tax, to do this study when…we’ve laid people off, we’ve asked our workers to take cutbacks and no raises, and we’re gonna spend $150,000 for a traffic study,” she added.

Thompson-Kelly suggested postponing a decision to move ahead with the study until the city has a better handle on the budget it will inherit for the coming fiscal year.

Ald. Venita Hervey (D-5), however, pointed to the possibility of a second federal stimulus package, noting the further along in the process the city is, the better its chances are to secure federal dollars to eliminate the one-way streets.

“For many of the projects for which Rockford will be eligible for ‘stimulus Round 2,’ and also some of the state money that’s allocated and probably will come out, these projects need to be ready,” Hervey asserted. “It’s not just a traffic study. It’s the feasibility study, and laying it out in a comprehensive way for all of the streets with much of the resulting work—not just the concrete and the street redirection, but also the traffic lights and timing that would need to be done. That’s a huge amount of money, and it’s an opportunity that will be lost if Rockford’s engineering and analysis work is not ready.”
Thompson-Kelly cast the only dissenting vote for the feasibility study.

Keith Creek bond issue sent back to committee

Aldermen unanimously agreed to send a proposed $9 million bond issuance back to committee for further consideration.

Aldermen voted Feb. 8 to authorize issuance of the bonds, to be backed by the 1-percentage-point sales tax that funds the city’s capital improvement plan (CIP), but reconsidered the matter Feb. 16. Once up for reconsideration, the issue was laid over for a week.

The bonds are necessary to pay off a $10 million line of credit used for the Keith Creek Flood Mitigation Program for the acquisition and demolition of homes impacted by the floods of 2006 and 2007. The $10 million note with Associated Bank was to be due in June, but a 60-day extension has afforded aldermen a little breathing room to identify alternatives.

Initially, Finance Director Andres Sammul indicated he did not believe the city would be able to increase its short-term borrowing capacity. Although a renewal of the note with Associated Bank is not possible, aldermen are looking into extending the line of credit with another financial institution.

A number of aldermen have expressed reservations about backing the bonds with the sales tax, which has a five-year sunset clause. The only other funding source apparent at the moment would be the general fund, which has already been undergoing cuts.

Although flood control was among the stated intentions for the sales tax referendum approved by voters in 2007, some aldermen, like Joe Sosnowski (R-1), don’t feel the 1-percentage-point sales tax was intended for this particular purpose.

Others, like Ald. Bill Robertson (I-14), noted the sales tax was supposed to mark a shift from bond debt to a pay-as-you-go approach to capital improvements.

Meantime, residents in the area where the city has purchased the flooded homes slated for demolition are urging aldermen not to drag their feet, because they see crime moving into the area where the homes stand vacant.

Mike Brackett, of the Keith Creek Neighborhood Association, explained, “We’ve had prostitution in there, drug dealing, vagrants, a lot of gang-bangers starting fires.

“Two-and-a-half years ago, we were promised to have the houses down, and the people that have come in there and the things that have happened need to be over with,” he argued. “If we have some areas like ours that continue to go down, it’s just gonna keep spreading all over the city, and this is a good retail area down there by Charles Street.”

Resolutions

• “That any new or existing group or committee that is assigned the task to develop, create data or argument that may be used to privatize or outsource any existing city services, jobs or functions must have a minimum of two aldermen, one from each caucus, assigned to it with full voting privileges, if needed or required by that group or committee structure.”

• Authorizing the use of $118,163 in motor fuel tax (MFT) funds for demolitions of 129-149 Morgan St.

• Approving an agreement with the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) for improvements to the Central Avenue bridge over Kent Creek. Per the agreement, the city’s share of the estimated $665,000 project cost will be $133,000 from MFT funds.

• Authorizing execution of an agreement with IDOT for improvements to the Morsay Drive bridge over the north branch of Keith Creek. Of the estimated $795,000 project cost, the city’s share will be $159,000 from MFT funds.

• Approving an Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF) out-of-state credit authorization for Ald. Mark, related to his employment with the MetroCentre. Mark abstained from the vote.

Committee reports

• Awarding Neenah (Wis.) Foundry Company’s $81,030 bid for gray iron sewer castings.

Public comments

For the second week in a row, Jim Buckingham complained about alleged code violations in the apartment building above CJ’s Lounge, 300 E. State St.

Buckingham alleged the building has broken windows, leaks, mold, lead paint, fire doors propped open, expired fire extinguishers, as well as poor hot water, heating and electricity. Ald. Mark indicated the Fire Department conducted an inspection since Buckingham’s complaints were lodged to the council the week prior, but reported the building is “in very good shape,” aside from a few minor issues.

Proclamations

March was proclaimed American Red Cross Month. Feb. 23 was proclaimed Rotary International Day.

From the Feb. 24-March 2, 2010, issue

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