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Vernon Avenue in Normal to get redesign and rebuild

Charlie Schlenker
A 16-acre natural playground along Vernon Avenue in Normal is one of the factors town planners will consider in a revisioning the roadway, using the Complete Streets guidelines.

The Town of Normal is exploring how to redesign a 1.85-mile stretch of Vernon Avenue, running from Beaufort Street on the west to Towanda Avenue on the east.

“The pavement is nearing the end of its useful life, especially on segments from Grandview to Towanda and Beaufort to Linden," said Ryan Otto, Normal Public Works and Engineering director. “There's a lot of potholes. All lanes are starting to look a little shabby. That's why we're looking at making sure we take the opportunity, when that roadway needs to be improved, to make it better.”

The town will hold a public briefing and then small group discussions to gather neighborhood input at 6:15 p.m. June 27 in the town council chambers in Uptown Station.

Currently, Vernon is a four-lane arterial road, but Otto said it might not stay that way.

"The preliminary look at traffic volumes in this area indicates that a road diet of some kind might be possible. In other words, we might not need all four lanes to accommodate traffic on Vernon," he said.

The redesign, using a sensibility contained in the U.S. Department of Transportation Complete Streets standards, could lower driving speeds and provide safer pedestrian and bicycle crossings.

"I think there is a real shift in philosophy, more so than a change in volumes. The pedestrian users find the road uninviting," said Otto. "The four lanes are difficult to cross. This will just bring it into a modern approach to looking at the roadway from the perspective of all users, not just cars and trucks."

Part of the process will be studying prevailing speeds, he said, adding area residents have a desire for that.

“In terms of speeding, right now our tool is enforcement. The Normal Police Department has done a great job out there. A lot of folks have expressed their appreciation for that. We're just looking for other tools to make the corridor a little bit less of a speed area,” said Otto.

Changes to increase versatility could include on-street parking, bike lanes, or three lanes instead of four — one of which could be a turn lane.

“We're looking heavily at the pedestrian crossings that are located on this corridor," said Otto. "We've got two Constitution Trail crossings, one west of Linden, and then one down by Angela, on Vernon. We also have a school zone next to Colene Hoose Elementary. We'll be taking a closer look at those particular pedestrian crossings that have higher volumes of pedestrians and looking at what treatments could be used to make those more visible to drivers and safer for pedestrians."

The area includes what Otto said the town expects to be a popular destination, a $5 million natural playgroundon 16 acres at Colene Hoose school. That installation will have a ribbon-cutting in September, according to the Unit 5 school district, and work to finish the project is likely to last through the summer.

In 2016, there was a pedestrian fatality in the area that prompted creation of a stop intersection, Otto said.

“There's more work to do in terms of evaluating the traffic control. We've got some four-way stops that we want to make sure function appropriately for all users. We are in the very early stages of this and that's why we want to go out for public comments — to gather information, to try to understand what residents that live along Vernon and use it all the time would like to see for improvements and how they would benefit the most from resurfacing and improvements we'd like to do,” he said.

Otto said the project would be done in phases and could take up to a decade, depending on a variety of factors.

Funding could come from a variety of sources, including state motor fuel tax money, grants, and amounts budgeted by the town.

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.