Future development could someday trigger the need for an East Side Highway. But a new, detailed study of the environmental impact of the possible highway route located approximately a mile east of Towanda Barnes road includes suggestions that could push off the need for decades.
The highway has been discussed in the community since a 1994 long range transportation study according to McLean County Regional Planning Transportation Planner, Jennifer Sicks. The Environmental Assessment, to be discussed at a public hearing Wednesday evening from 6 to 9 PM at Central Catholic High School, is the latest chapter.
"As the name indicates it talks about environmental impacts. What people may not understand is that it covers a very broad array of categories," said Sicks. "It's not just the natural environment and the effect on drainage and that kind of thing. It also has to do with the built environment, it looks at existing structures, it looks at the contours of the community and how it's growing."
McLean County Administrative Services Director and former County Engineer Eric Schmitt has been working on the project for close to decade. During Sound Ideas, he said future growth would trigger the need for the highway. The Environmental Assessment includes a monitoring plan to track growth and traffic increases. Sicks, who has been working on the highway plan for about 15 years, said the municipalities have also already taken steps that could delay the need for the highway.
"Bloomington adopted a comprehensive plan last year which among other things take a new approach to areas of developable land. In the last version of the comprehensive plan there was quite an extensive area of land specified for future development. This time around there's a much more compact area. In fact, its bounded by the current preferred alternative [route] for the East Side Highway."
Sick said the city's comprehensive plan also intends to infill areas already in the city of Bloomington and served by city services. The plan estimates that it could be 5 to 10 years before before demand exhausts available land nearer the city's core, delaying any building in less developed areas.
"We are recalibrating how long it would take to get tot he point where development would drive the need for an East Side Highway," said Sicks.
The report also includes transportation strategies that could push a construction date into the future. Travel Demand Management are policies designed to influence travel behavior, spread travel demand across peak periods, and reduce the demand for single-occupancy vehicle trips. The Environmental Assessment report cites examples such as "alternative work times, ride-sharing, or bicycle incentives." There's also a Transit alternative, which places more emphasis on transit to reduce traffic and Transportation Systems Management (TSM) which are "small improvements to the existing transportation system, such as the installation of dedicated turn lanes." Schmitt said a good example of TSM is the plan to add turn lanes to improve traffic flow at Towanda-Barnes at Ireland Grove. Both the City of Bloomington and McLean County have approved the intersection improvement.
There's also a "no build alternative."
"The no build alternative is really the continued projects that are already in our long term transportation plan and building out those projects and not actually building an east side highway," said Schmitt. "It's more expanding the existing system as planned."
The total estimated cost of the East Side Highway project in today's dollars is $410 million. The cost does not include land acquisition or ongoing maintenance costs associated with the roadway for the life of the highway.