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Normal Hires Farnsworth for West College Avenue Redesign

The Normal Town Council met remotely Monday, Oct. 19, 2020.

Normal now moves into the design phase of its $9.5 million West College Avenue reconstruction, with Monday’s town council vote to release $370,000 of state motor fuel tax funds. 

City Manager Pam Reece said the reconstruction of West College--from Rivian Motorway to White Oak Road--is set for completion in 2023. The Farnsworth Group of Bloomington will oversee project design.

Also at Monday’s remote meeting, the council OK’d several other items, including a $440,000 Main Street water main project, and a resolution to apply for a nearly $1 million grant for a Gregory Street extension of the Constitution Trail.

In June, the council OK’d the West College Avenue project, authorizing city planners to pursue $5 million in grants from the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity (DCEO), and to commit $600,000 of this year’s motor fuel tax revenue toward planning. In all, Normal expects to use about $1.4 million in MFT funds for the multi-year project.

About $3.1 million in federal funding also will be allocated for the project.

“It’s a great use of local seed money to bring back almost $6 of our tax money back for every local dollar invested,” said council member Kevin McCarthy, reiterating the council’s support for the project. 

Monday’s vote, which was 7-0, was state required for the MFT funds’ release. Farnsworth will use the $370,000 to begin a two-phased engineering and design plan.

City Engineer Ryan Otto said the DCEO grants are expected to be announced in January, and awarding the bid now keeps the timeline from falling behind. 

“It shouldn’t be any type of wasted effort, should we not receive the grant,” added Otto, because federal funding also requires the engineering and design plans.

Main Street water main extension

The council also approved spending about $440,000 to extend water mains along Main, Kingsley and Wilson streets. 

SNC Construction Inc. of Gibson City will be paid up to $422,500 for the project. About $17,650 will cover a right-of-way issue with Union Pacific, and a Rail Pros construction observer.

The vote passed 6-1, with council member Stan Nord voting “no.” He said he didn’t view the project as a priority.

However, Normal Water Director John Burkhart said completing this project now, rather than later, allows the town to get in front of a major road project the Illinois Department of Transporation (IDOT) plans for Main Street sometime in the next five years. 

Burkhart also said water main installation will help minimize possible service interruptions to south Normal, and address a changing landscape that has seen much higher usage over the past few decades.

“To hold back on this project at this point would be pennywise and pound foolish for the taxpayers,” said council member Kathleen Lorenz.

Constitution Trail extension

The council voted 6-1 in favor of the $1.2 million Gregory Street extension of Constitution Trail, from Adelaide Street to Parkside Road. 

The vote authorizes the town to apply for a $964,000 grant from IDOT's Transportation Enhancement Program (ITEP), with the understanding that if funding is awarded, the city would need to match up to $241,000. 

Mayor Chris Koos, called it a high priority project, noting the trail extension will serve Parkside and Normal West schools and connect nearby neighborhoods with Maxwell Park. 

Nord again was the “no” vote, saying he didn’t like the town using MFT tax revenue to fund the extension.  

Council reports

The council also heard two reports Monday, one about a Parks and Recreation Department-led inventory of the town’s trees, and another about the town's efforts to become a “smart city,” described as a holistic approach to using technology for innovation and problem-solving.

In other business, the council:

  • Changed its policy for public comments at council and other Normal government meetings. The new policy calls for a limit of 30-minutes at a meeting’s start to be dedicated to items connected with that night’s agenda. An additional 15-minutes will be allowed at meeting's end, for public comments about general town business.
  • Approved a joint project with the McLean County Regional Planning Commission regarding a $100,000 pavement-quality assessment of all roads in the town. IDOT awarded an $80,000 grant toward the 6-month project, with Normal paying the remaining $20,000.
  • Authorized city administrators to explore a possible cost-saving measure of leasing vehicles, rather than buying them. Initially, the town will have a 6-month lease with Enterprise Fleet Management for one Chevy 15-passenger van, and four GMC trucks.  After the leases end, and the vehicles are sold, the town expects the total cost will be under $500 total. Finance Director Andrew Huhn told the council the process will almost entirely offset the cost to the town.

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Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.