Village trustees voted unanimously to appropriate $50,000 in operating funds to the ongoing Willow Road study project at Tuesday’s village board meeting. The motion requires the village to amend its May 1, 2010-April 30, 2011 budget.
The money will pay for services provided by communication and engineering consultant firms that to date have included Kenig, Lindgren, O'Hara, Aboona Inc. (KLOA), All Circo Inc., Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP, Culloton Strategies LLC, and Coopers Civil Engineering LTD.
The only firm mentioned at the board meeting was KLOA, the traffic and transportation planning and engineering firm the village has hired to study road and traffic data produced by the Illinois Department of Transportation. KLOA has been tasked with bolstering Northfield’s case for a three-lane plan with supportive data and to help the non-transportation experts who represent Northfield on the study’s community advisory group (CAG) understand the complex reports IDOT hands out.
“The information is terribly complicated and terribly technical,” said Village President Fred Gougler. “People without an engineering background have a difficult time to understand it.”
Sitting next to Village Manager Stacy Sigman, also a CAG member, at the board table was a stack of papers that reached almost to her shoulders. The stack comprised several hundred pages of traffic analyses and highway manuals IDOT distributed to CAG members.
“We’ve hired technical consultants to provide meaningful meaning to these documents,” Sigman said, noting that KLOA’s consultants have also identified errors and problematic information with some of IDOT’s reports, 50 percent of which have been acknowledged by IDOT, she said.
Part of Northfield’s three-lane-plan campaign has been claiming that the roadway is not solely responsible for the traffic congestion in the area and that widening it will not solve congestion problems. They have been collecting engineering reports and historical data to help prove this point.
“It’s like trying to lose weight by loosening the notches on your belt. You don’t lose weight; you just grow into it,” said Traffic and Transportation Committee Chair Bob Hayward, who sits on the CAG. He was asked to speak before the board and the residents about the need for greater funds.
“We are being bombarded with thousands of pages of paper. We are not experts. No one sleeps with the Highway Safety Manual as their pillow at night,” Hayward said. “We need people to prepare us so we can ask the right questions. … I believe this battle will be won in the end by us if we have the funds to prepare for that battle.”
Before trustees voted, Gougler opened up the meeting to the 20-member audience, for their direct input. A resident and another CAG member gave their support for additional funds, but not everyone was gung-ho.
“We’re talking about a road; it’s not a space shuttle,” said resident Tom Schwartz. “You are asking to spend another $50,000 in a process that has no end. How long will you continue to come back for additional funds?”
He also said the citizens were persuaded to adopt home rule in Northfield with the promise that the village would not abuse its power with excessive taxing and spending.
“The process will continue whether we support it or not,” replied trustee Brian Kozminski. “We’re talking about advocacy. I think we need to support our team to come up with the best solution.”
Gougler said he and Sigman received several e-mails from citizens giving their input. Cook County Board Rep. Jennifer Bishop Jenkins, who could not attend the meeting, asked that her e-mail be read aloud. She said she knocked on doors all over Northfield asking residents to support home rule so that the village could continue to provide basic services, such as law enforcement.
“The village has spent a ridiculous amount of money on this road issue already,” she wrote, adding that she “will have lied to all the people I urged to support home rule if this optional and significant expense is authorized. … Throwing more money at Willow Road is a waste of time.”
Tracy Mendrek, who also campaigned for home rule, defended the fund appropriation, saying trustees have not yet broken promises they made during the home rule campaign, such as implementing tax increases or service cuts.
Gougler said the principles of home rule and Willow Road advocacy go hand-in-hand.
“The idea of protecting character of community are areas we embody,” he said.
The 2010-11 budget originally included $64,550 for “Village Board Projects” in the general fund. The budget was revised in October 2010 to change this line item to $114,550.
The yes vote on Tuesday amends the budget further to bolster this line item to $164,550. Village documents show has pledged up to $50,000 for eligible costs – excluding legal – associated with Willow Road activities, and the has pledged up to $10,000.
At the board’s strategic planning session held Jan. 6, Gougler and Sigman said they project the 2010-11 budget to end with a surplus rather than a deficit, as was originally expected.
The village is currently working on next year's budget and has invited the public to participate in budgeting workshop scheduled for March 8, time to be determined.
The next Willow Road CAG meeting will be held on Thursday, 6 p.m., at New Trier Township High School, Northfield campus, Room C-234.