Officials focus on IDOT meeting for viaduct's future

Marianne Gillespie
Caution: About 8,100 vehicles travel through the viaduct each day at the north end of Chillicothe.

If it is true that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, then there may be an overabundance around Chillicothe’s northern city limits.

Residents are joining a grassroots group, spearheaded by the Chillicothe Chamber of Commerce in the summer of 2010, in signing petitions in support of an overhaul of the viaduct.

Residents have long complained of the safety of the area with the narrow lanes and pieces of concrete falling onto the roadway. The viaduct is owned by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad.

Representatives of the Chillicothe Viaduct Safety Initiative will present those petitions at a meeting from 4-7 p.m. Thursday at the Illinois Department of Transportation District Four Headquarters, 401 Main St., Peoria.

“It’s the next step in the process. It’s probably the most important thing in the process so far,” said chairman Mike Krost of the initiative.

Chillicothe leaders are planning to attend the open house public information/input meeting, as well as state legislators who represent Chillicothe.

“Voices get heard. Squeaky wheels get oil. I think as long as we keep talking about it and the safety of it, I think we’ll get something done ... We’ve gotten more done than in previous years,” said Mayor Troy Childers Sr.

In the last 90 days or so, Krost said the initiative has pushed getting residents’ signatures for the petition, hoping for more than 1,000 names.

Residents wanting to support the measure may find the petitions around town or visit the chamber of commerce office.

Additionally, Krost said residents need to not just show up at the meeting, but speak up about the viaduct.

“We want them to speak to an IDOT representative. We want verbal comments from people,” said Krost.

Resolutions in support of an upgrade — from entities such as the city, park district, township, library, fire department, businesses and more — will be presented at the meeting too.

The initiative met with area representatives, IDOT and railroad officials in June about the viaduct.

It was the first time the initiative met face-to-face with the railroad officials.

At that time, BNSF officials said if the company paid 20 percent of the costs, with 80 percent picked up by the government, the company could proceed now, according to a CVSI August fact sheet.

To bring down costs, the new viaduct could be built in between the existing structure, according to BNSF officials, and the new structure would only need two tracks.

Estimated planning and engineering costs are at $2 million and construction could be from $17-$22 million.

The overhaul is in an IDOT plan for 2035, but residents want that date pushed up.

“We have a lot of things going in our direction. While it’s hot, let’s strike,” said Childers.

Aside from the safety concerns, Childers said he believes more vehicles would travel through Chillicothe if the viaduct was upgraded, which equals greater sales tax proceeds.

Additionally, an industrial company may see Chillicothe as an area to locate, he said, and add employment for the city.

“It’s a just cause, and I think legislators see the need to have it done,” said Childers.

City leaders note the importance of this meeting with IDOT.

“If we miss this one now, it could be another five years before they take a look at it,” said Krost.