Village's Highway 14 plan gains steam
Plan Commission recommends route that brings road closer to school
July 20, 2011 | 09:07 AMWalworth — The village's Plan Commission wants an alternative route for Highway 14 that eliminates all the right angle turns, but brings the road closer to the village's elementary school.
With no one but a reporter in the audience, the commission recommended the Village Board adopt that plan for Highway 14. This issue will be on the village's September agenda.
Plan Commissioners were somewhat surprised the controversial issue didn't bring more people to the meeting. At times, when commissioners discussed the issue, Village Hall was packed with people who opposed bringing the road closer to the school.
The village's plan, which was developed by its planner Jamie Rybarczyk, would require the acquisition of the Antique Mall and a neighboring residence. The highway would travel through the acquired properties and run along the west end of Heyer Park.
"It's just the right thing to do with the road," Village Trustee Todd Watters said. "The sharpest turn here is about 35 degrees."
The Department of Transportation also developed a plan for the road, which would require the acquisition of the Antique Mall. With the DOT's plan, the road would remain relatively in the same place, but the turns around it would become wider.
Plan Commissioner Laurie Larson said a better option for Highway 14 would have been a bypass around the village, but the state isn't willing to shell out cash for that project. With a bypass out of the picture, the village's plan is the best option for the village, Larson said.
Village President David Rasmussen said the village's option for the plan will have the most long-term benefits.
"The con is that it's closer to the school," Rasmussen said. "The pros are it's better for downtown traffic, it preserves angle parking, it eliminates the turns and it's the shortest distance between two points."
With the DOT's plan, all the angle parking around the square would have been eliminated.
With the village's plan, Madison Street, which runs south of the square, and North Main Street, which is east of the square, both become one-way streets and are no longer part of the state highway.
"This eliminates the ability to shortcut through North Main Street," Rasmussen said.
Funding the project
DOT officials have said the village's plan costs about $400,000 more than the other option. The DOT also has made it clear the state isn't willing to fund the additional costs.
In a letter to village officials, Rybarczyk outlines five possible mechanisms for funding the project. Of those five, the village's Finance Committee recommended two possible funding options — creating a Tax Increment Financing District and a Safe Routes to School grant.
The Safe Routes to School grant program is administered by the DOT and encourages children to walk and ride bicycles to school. Any project considered under this grant must be within two miles of a school.
Creating a TIF district would be a more involved option and also could have a larger impact along Highway 14.
Tax increment financing is a tool used to make improvements in a blighted area of a community.
When a TIF district is created, any new tax revenues created within the district — either through new construction or improvements to existing buildings — goes to funding projects within it.
Rasmussen said he envisions a TIF district in Walworth to incorporate Highway 14 and "several thousand feet" to the east and west of the road.
Rasmussen said he doesn't view a TIF district as a way to fund unnecessary projects, or that a community has to spend the maximum amount that it can.
"I'm not interested in TIFs that go out endlessly," he said.
Last week, Watters, who chair's the village's finance committee, said the village wouldn't necessarily begin funding a lot of projects immediately.
TIF districts don't necessarily come without problems. The Fontana Community Development Authority, which oversees the village's TIF, is operating at a deficit.
In Walworth, Rasmussen said the TIF can be used to make improvements to the roads and storefronts along the highway.
Rasmussen also said by moving Highway 14 off of Madison and North Main Streets business owners may be more attracted to those storefronts.
"Maybe we can entice people to come in and make improvements," Rasmussen said.