Another roundabout for Columbia?

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On the same day Columbia began work on a roundabout project on Quarry Road, discussion of a potential new roundabout less than a mile from the one under construction took place.

The Columbia City Council on June 6 approved a resolution to support an application for a Highway Safety Improvement Grant through the Illinois Department of Transportation. If awarded, the grant would provide 90 percent of funds needed to construct a roundabout intersection at Ghent Road, Quarry Road and Old Route 3.

The proposed project would be just east of an on-ramp for I-255 via northbound Route 3.

“This intersection is a complex intersection with many turning movements. With the current and proposed development near this intersection, traffic at this intersection will increase,” the agenda item report read. “A roundabout would simplify the movements, provide traffic calming along Quarry Road, reduce congestion and improve traffic flow and safety at this intersection.”

When asked about the amount of traffic crashes involving the proposed grant area, Columbia Police Department Chief Jason Donjon said the city has had “plenty.”

Donjon noted as far as vehicle crashes involving “serious injury or worse” at the intersection, “we haven’t had any, thank goodness, but it doesn’t mean it’s not coming.”

Referring to access to Quarry Road and related traffic congestion on Old Route 3 and Ghent Road, Donjon said he believes it would be a “phenomenal area” to have a roundabout. 

Columbia City Engineer Chris Smith said he is “still working through” the application process, but he was at a point where he needed council approval to continue.

Smith also noted it is a statewide grant, so the project would be competing with all Illinois counties rather than some grants which are specific to a three-county area.

“We may not have the severity (of traffic accidents) that sometimes (IDOT) is looking for,” Smith said, referring to the grant, “but I think being proactive is the proper thing to do.”

Several aldermen agreed, including Ward I Alderman Doug Garmer, who said he finds it to be “a challenge to figure out what other drivers are doing there.”

Ward IV Alderman Mary Ellen Niemietz concurred, noting the intersection has a “lot of moving parts.”

Columbia began its Quarry Road Roundabout and Resurfacing Phase 2 Project last Monday.

This project consists of a roundabout at the intersection of Quarry Road and Palmer Creek Drive/Father Carl Scherrer Drive and also includes patching, resurfacing and a shared use path on the south side of Quarry Road from the roundabout to Rueck Road.  

Quarry Road will be closed between Palmer Creek Drive and Laura Court starting June 13 to facilitate construction. The closure is anticipated to last eight weeks.  

During closures, residents and motorists shall use alternate routes such as Rueck Road and Ghent Road. Palmer Road will be signed as a one way street from Rueck Road to Palmer Drive.

In other business Monday night, Columbia City Administrator Doug Brimm updated the council on a recent meeting he had with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency as part of the city’s response to a notice of violation from the IEPA in February.

Brimm met with officials June 1 to refute claims that a leaf storage site on Bremser Road as part of the city’s leaf collection program is creating a prohibited leachate runoff into a nearby stream.

The first argument Brimm explained was “the body of water (IEPA is) claiming the city is polluting naturally occurring drainage feature” and when the city consulted with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who said the “simple drainage feature is not a water of the United States” and therefore does not fall under its jurisdiction. 

In what Brimm described as a “gross regulatory overreach,” IEPA officials told him “federal regulations are essentially meaningless in Illinois,” thereby allowing them to assume jurisdiction for the waterway in question.  

Further, Brimm said the city received confirmation the samples collected as part of the alleged violation were “invalid” because they were not handled properly and not submitted in a timely manner. 

Brimm added he also learned the “violations the city received were solely based on visual observation.” 

Brimm said the IEPA issued a violation based solely on the color of the water rather than analysis of soil or water samples taken from the site.

Finally, he noted the city contacted the proper agencies, including the federal EPA, “months in advance” of considering its own leaf collection “just to ensure everything was above board” with the proposed project details. 

“The ‘I’s  were dotted, ‘T’s were crossed,” Brimm said.

Brimm explained once the program was approved by the city council, “we began receiving an onslaught of completely unfounded criticism” from one individual. 

Even after two separate inspections yielded no evidence of violations, this individual continued to communicate with the IEPA in an attempt to have more testing at the Bremser Road site.

“I contend that simply in an effort to make this individual – acting in a manner not grounded in reality – go away, they sent another inspector out in February where all of a sudden these violations were discovered or observed – not scientifically, mind you – purely subjectively,” Brimm continued.

The city is now required to submit a letter within 21 days of the June 1 meeting “reiterating” its position, after which the IEPA has 30 days to take further action.   

“We are going to heavily lobby the IEPA that they consider this matter closed,” Brimm concluded, advising the council will be engaged within the next two months regarding the city’s 2022 leaf collection program.

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