Never Stop Improving

by Mayor Jim Ardis, City of Peoria

The Peoria community is still basking in the glow of being awarded the All-America City designation. Once again, I commend those who worked so hard to present Peoria’s story on June 15th in Denver… as well as those who labor with dedication and sacrifice, day in and day out, to make our city the best it can be. Indeed, citizens have a great deal of which to be proud. And added to this great civic award we have witnessed the opening of the truly outstanding Marriott Père Marquette and the continuing development of public and private projects throughout the city. “Never Stop Improving” certainly seems an appropriate title for this era in our long and rich history.

Now, improvement comes with a price, and I’m not referring to the obvious “price” of public and private funding, but rather to the aggravating, if temporary, conditions that accompany construction, renovation and land development in general. In particular, I’m referring to our present spate of major road improvements.

While I receive my share of “complaints” for various activities conducted by other units of government whose projects or charters overlap the city’s boundaries, nothing compares to the volume and decibel level of “advice” I’m receiving for all the road construction currently underway. I accept this as part and parcel of the obligations that accompany my role as mayor. As odd as it may seem, I welcome hearing from our citizens about roads, because they really are commenting on the progress we are making in upgrading our critical infrastructure. Admittedly, they may not see it that way when they call or see me in person!

There are five things I try to impress upon our citizens when it comes to road improvements. First, I use the streets every day, many times a day, and experience the same delays, dust, bumps and frustration that they do. Secondly, I remind my fellow citizens that the end result will be well worth it—in the convenience and uninterrupted flow of the Glen Oak roundabout, for example, or the safety and comfort of the University and Glen intersection. Thirdly, construction means jobs, purchases from local suppliers, and emphasis on using local contractors wherever practicable. Next, the realism that if we didn’t improve our worst roads, travel and safety would be even more jeopardized. And finally, the City is being a responsible steward of tax dollars in the budgeting, selection and design of what projects need attention now… and over the next five years.

There’s no question that the massive reconstruction of Washington Street in the Warehouse District is a major disruption to drivers, local businesses and pedestrians. This huge project, like many others, requires major work underground in relocating and upgrading utility lines and pipes, as well as significant construction of modern drainage capabilities so flooding is mitigated. In fact, most of the time of road construction is consumed with underground work so that when the surface is applied, it will last for decades. This project, when completed in 2014, will not only add value to adjacent businesses, it will complement the Riverfront Museum and Caterpillar Visitors Center, and equally important, support the exciting vision for residential and retail development in the Warehouse District.

And yes, if you drive on University, there are many headaches, especially in the War Memorial-to-Glen corridor. However, construction crews are doing an outstanding job of curb, sidewalk and intersection upgrades in preparation for surface improvements. The project is also complicated near Glen by the added traffic due to the detour route for the closing of Northmoor Road from University to Sheridan. As a matter of fact, when you are driving on University and thinking, “Why can’t they get this done faster or hurry up with the traffic control lights at War Memorial?,” just think of the residents on Northmoor… and the patience and good spirits they are exhibiting with their main access road closed to through traffic.

The City Council recently approved significant improvements and repair to the Allen/Alta Road intersection, which was seriously damaged and closed due to the heavy April flooding. This is one of the fastest growing sections of the community. There already are major inconveniences with this project, but the end result will be a safer, smoother and more expedient movement of traffic. As noted above, this work will be accomplished using a locally-based contractor and Peoria-area workers.

Again, if we did not complete these road projects—if we didn’t keep improving—where would we be? I doubt we’d be an All-America City. In fact, our road improvement budget is rather modest (about $20 million this fiscal year), considering that our overall needs approach $100 million. The City of Peoria lives within its means. We don’t raise property taxes if at all possible, and we haven’t done so for more than 20 years! We partner with the state and federal government whenever the project qualifies, and we stretch our local road improvement dollars to the breaking point.

I appreciate the patience of our citizens, the understanding by all who commute daily to their jobs over city streets, the diligence and oversight of the City Council, and the supervision of our Department of Public Works. But most of all, I am thankful we can accomplish these projects and contribute to our mutual public safety, enhancing our physical assets and our long-term development and competitiveness as an All-America City! iBi

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