No elected officials spoke out in favor of the east side highway project at a joint meeting of the Bloomington, Normal, and the County governing bodies. County Board Member Stan Hoselton of Chenoa was symbolic of many in his opposition.
The preferred alternative identified in an environmental impact study runs a mile east of Towanda Barnes Road. That is the furthest east of any alignment. Engineer Jerry Payonk of the Clark-Dietz firm doing the study says creating an alignment secures right of way in case growth projections come to reality. Payonk says the threshold to build the road is not any one thing, but a system failure of the existing road system that would emerge gradually through city, town, and county road budgets.
That imprecision does not sit well with farmer Bart Bittner who says leaving the issue unclear is a bad thing.
Opponents of the project question whether growth projections will pan out, noting State Farm Insurance, the area's largest employer is focusing on other areas of the country. But, Payonk says consultant growth forecasts do take that into account.
Payonk also says Bloomington Normal has five separate employment sectors that have grown over the last decade which indicates a strong economy. Payonk says the proposed alignment for the long debated project has the least impact to the environment, residences, businesses, and government lands. He also laid out why an interstate standard is proposed instead of a road like Towanda Barnes or Veterans Parkway.
In November, the study will be presented to a variety of federal and other agencies including the Transportation Department, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Natural Resources, Agriculture Department, and the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Payonk says they must all agree that the work done is valid or the entire process would have to start over. He says local officials would not have to vote on the issue until further grant funding is needed for engineering studies. He says deciding whether to agree to local matching portions would be the next opportunity to sign off or reject the plan.
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