When the Illinois Department of Transportation released initial plans for Route 3 improvements in Waterloo a few years ago, Sheila Kimlinger and residents of the Vandebrook and Stonefield subdivisions banded together for positive change.
The results of this community effort are starting to take shape in the form of dirt and gravel being worked into a safer new road for everyone.
“If all of us in Vandebrook just sat by and didn’t go to meetings or say anything, we would be getting a much worse condition at our subdivision entrance with Route 3,” Kimlinger said. “We took control of our destiny.”
Kimlinger attended an early public meeting IDOT held on the project, and was surprised to see that proposed additional lanes on Route 3 would end at the last stoplight in town (South Market) rather than extending further south to Vandebrook Drive.
“After the stoplight, the lanes would converge back to one lane in each direction,” she recalled of the initial plans. “This would be similar to the area around Schnuck’s and Walgreens. To be honest, this just wasn’t an acceptable solution to me.”
Kimlinger said residents of the Vandebrook and Stonefield subdivisions already have a difficult intersection to navigate each day at Vandebrook Drive and Route 3, and this would have made it much worse.Sheila Kimlinger
“We have many young families with new drivers, and I just didn’t want conditions to worsen,” she said.
Approximately 215 total homes are located between the two subdivisions, she said. During the peak morning and evening commute times, drivers typically wait several minutes to make the turn from Vandebrook onto Route 3.
“After waiting that long, drivers get more ‘desperate’ to get out, being willing to take chances they shouldn’t,” Kimlinger said. “This is the only way in and out of these subdivisions.”
There were other residents who were disappointed with these plans, so Kimlinger asked IDOT if they would be able to study that intersection as part of the project.
IDOT officials replied that the only way to get something like this added to the project was to get lawmakers to approve more funding, since it is funded with Illinois Jobs Now money, which is legislatively slated.
“I grew up a lawyer’s daughter, in a small-town somewhat political family in east central Illinois,” Kimlinger said. “I knew that if enough letters were written to the right people, we could get some attention to our plight.”
So Kimlinger drafted a letter and sent it to Waterloo Mayor Tom Smith, State Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, then-State Rep. Dan Reitz and IDOT District 8 Engineer Mary Lamie. She copied the letter and passed information around to neighbors, encouraging them to contact their elected officials.
“To my pleasant surprise, enough interest had been created that both Luechtefeld and Reitz both contacted me to dis- cuss the issue,” Kimlinger said.
During a family vacation to Washington, D.C., Kimlinger brought up the matter with then- U.S. Congressman Jerry Costello, who promised to chat with Lamie about the project.
As a result of the community and elected officials getting involved, IDOT held a public meeting just on the Vandebrook entrance issue.
“We packed the room at City Hall,” Kimlinger said. “Nearly everyone had a story of a close call or even an accident at that intersection. I was so proud of Vandebrook/Stonefield for actually showing up and taking some action.”
In addition to getting IDOT to study the issue, the city rebuilt the entrance radius to the current Vandebrook Drive, Kimlinger said, making it easier to turn off Route 3.
Once the Vandebrook intersection was studied by IDOT, it was determined to be more cost-efficient to relocate Vandebrook Drive as a two-lane rural roadway instead of building five lanes all the way down past the current roadway. The new roadway will come out of the subdivisions at the existing stoplight with South Market, eliminating the turn across opposing traffic.
The current Vandebrook Drive will be shut off from Route 3 once the new road is extended to subdivision residents.
“The whole process is a great example of what government can do for its people,” Kimlinger said. “If you are willing to stand up and say something, following proper channels, you can get results. Especially when you band together and are counted.”
IDOT location studies engineer Cindy Stafford acknowledged that the efforts of Kimlinger and others brought about changes to benefit the greater good of the community.
“I think the early participation of community leaders and the public helped IDOT come to a thorough understanding of what the problems were being experienced by the public along the route and develop a design that addressed those problems with the community’s priorities in mind,” Stafford said.
The overall Route 3 project involves 4.3 miles of roadway from North Market Street to South Market Street, plus the relocation of Vandebrook Drive.
The current two-lane highway will be reconstructed into a four-lane thoroughfare, with turn lanes or flush medians added as required. Other features will include a roundabout just west of Route 3 on Park Street, as well as a stoplight at Illinois Avenue and a 10-foot-wide shared use path for walkers and bicyclists.