East side residents of Bloomington Normal have given elected officials an earful of opposition to the proposed East Side Highway Project in a hotel that was itself farmland a decade ago. A years long environmental assessment of the proposal to connect I-55 and I-74 from Towanda to Downs is drawing to a close and the Mclean County Board and area City Councils could vote on a preferred alignment for the proposed highway late this year or early next. During a citizens forum off East Empire street, Attorney Hal Jennings said he is very unhappy and he knew nothing about the westernmost alignment that would take some homes in his subdivision and devalue the rest.
"It's going to cost a fortune just for one subdivision in condemnation fees. And I guarantee you that since there is a bunch of lawyers including me living out there, we'll be in front of a condemnation jury until who laid the rail."
The issue has been studied for nearly 20 years and has failed before. Supporters of the process say if they don't choose a possible route now, growth will continue to happen and even more residents will be unhappy when traffic loads indicate the road should be built. But, Harvest Pointe Subdivision resident Brian Stratman says even choosing an alignment is harmful.
"The vote itself and making a decision now when we don't know whether it's going to happen in the future or not, but making a decision as to which option is going to happen if it does happen, that will decrease the value of our homes immediately because people won't want to come to live in these homes when they know there is a possibility a highway will be built right through the middle of it."
Supporters of the project note that if elected officials choose a preferred route in votes late this year or early in 2014, they could also pass disclosure rules that would force realtors and developers to tell buyers of the potential road and avoid the surprise some current east side residents had when news of the highway study resurfaced.
Bruce Naffziger lives in the Grove subdivision in Bloomington which would be affected by the westernmost of three remaining possible road alignments. Naffziger said the progress of the study has lagged behind the houses on the ground.
In 1994 if they had drawn these lines, I don't think these would have been issues. But, the horse is out of the barn. And you can't say now it's your tough luck. We're just going to stick it here because that's what we want to do, because we should have planned better."
Supporters of the planning process say if elected officials kill off the studies again, the same situation will happen another ten or twenty years in the future when the need for a new road connecting Downs and Towanda and Interstates 55 and 74 becomes dire. Two of the three potential remaining routes for the highway do not impact current development, though elected officials and east side residents say at the pace of construction that could change soon. Even if it gains approval on the local level construction of the potentially $350 million project is 15 to 20 years away.
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