MORRISON – Area officials have been told that a U.S. Route 30 four-lane expansion around Morrison isn’t going to happen.
Representatives from the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration met will some mayors, economic development leaders, and Citizens Advisory Group members March 9 in Morrison to deliver the news.
IDOT will make a formal announcement at a public meeting planned from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday at Odell Public Library in Morrison.
After more than a decade of planning and millions of dollars spent on studies, the news came as a surprise to Morrison.
“Meetings had been postponed, and we have been wondering when they were going to tell us something,” Morrison Mayor Everett Pannier said. “Then they announced there would be no four-lane expansion from Fulton to Rock Falls around Morrison.”
IDOT cited several reasons for not doing the project in Morrison, but Pannier said emphasis was put on studies that showed declining traffic count numbers along that stretch of the highway.
“They said the traffic counts since 2011 between Rock Falls and Fulton have been down to the point where they can’t rationalize spending nearly $500 million for an expansion in the area,” Pannier said.
A lack of public support was cited as another reason for the decision.
While leaders in other corridor towns such as Fulton, Rock Falls, and Clinton, Iowa, have been solidly behind the four-lane expansion, Morrison’s level of support has been mixed at best. At its last public meeting, 67 percent of those in attendance voted for the no build option.
There wasn’t enough room to do the expansion through town, and there was concern that Morrison would be isolated by the bypass.
“We have about 18 businesses around the corridor that will be happy about this decision,” Pannier said. “Now that the uncertainty is gone, we will reach out to the Route 30 businesses, and do whatever we can to help them.”
Pannier said the decision removes a huge barrier to planning for the city’s future. The U.S. Route 30 corridor feasibility study began in spring 2002, and results of that study determined that the project was necessary to meet projected growth and transportation demands in northwestern Illinois.
The project suffered a major setback in 2013, when the Federal Emergency Management Agency drew up new floodplain maps in Morrison and along the Rock River at the state Route 2 corridor. The new maps expanded the floodplain areas, affecting the planned road routes.
The project was basically back at square one, requiring new route determinations and public impact meetings.
Morrison is still focused on U.S. 30, but the objectives are now clear.
“We’re not saying that the four-lane expansion won’t ever happen here, but now we must work with IDOT on improving Route 30 through town because it’s not in good shape,” Pannier said.
Whiteside County Economic Development Director Gary Camarano said the decision is disappointing news for the future of economic development in the county and region.
“Along the east-west corridor between Chicago and Iowa, the Iowa side is complete, and most of it in Illinois is completed except a small portion in Whiteside County,” Camarano said.
Camarano said he would have liked the process to have been more representative of all of the communities involved.
“I understand Morrison’s situation, but we need to look at the big picture,” Camarano said. “The town hall is not a scientific poll by any means – it’s a single event where the results depend largely on who organizes it.”
Camarano also questioned the validity of the traffic projections in determining a need for the expansion.
“If you don’t improve the road, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and people aren’t going to use it as often,” Camarano said.
Camarano hasn’t been in Whiteside County throughout most of the U.S. 30 process, but he said he plans to gauge support for continuing the fight.
“Part of this could be political dysfunction at the state level, but with the renewed emphasis on infrastructure in Washington, maybe we just need to present a better case,” Camarano said.
The proposed project area, 24 miles long and 10 miles wide, had extended from state Route 136 east of Fulton, bypassing Morrison, and continuing to state Route 40 in Rock Falls.