Representatives of the Facebook group “Citizens Demanding Change on Illinois Route 3, Columbia, Illinois” addressed the Columbia City Council, Columbia Police Chief Jerry Paul and Monroe County Sheriff Neal Rohlfing at Monday’s meeting of the Columbia City Council.
The group was founded in 2015 following a crash at Route 3 and Admiral Parkway that seriously injured young Nikki Warnecke of New Athens, who was a passenger in a car that was hit by Katherine Brinkley, 27, of Waterloo. Brinkley, who was traveling northbound on Route 3 and ran the red light at a high rate of speed, hit the passenger side of the Pontiac G6 Warnecke was in.
Brinkley, who was out on bond at the time of the crash for drug possession, was eventually sentenced to seven years in prison.
But the crash that has people talking and demanding change occurred much more recently, when mother Emily Webb’s SUV was hit by a dump truck at the intersection, killing her instantly and injuring her six children.
“This website came out to bring awareness to the issues that were going on on Route 3, with just a variety of different concerns that citizens had,” said Mayor Kevin Hutchinson.
The page has become a sounding board for people venting about drivers, offering suggestions for improving traffic safety and questioning existing procedures. Areas of concern, while primarily centered on the Route 3 corridor through Columbia, extend south to Hanover Road and along Columbia’s Main Street.
“We’ve obviously been watching and monitoring the website and we thought it was a great time for you to come in and address the council,” Hutchinson said.
Group administrators Tara Masidonski, Jennifer Ceradsky and Jill Bauer all addressed the council.
“We kind of combed through the page, we took the concerns and suggestions the community was posting on the page, and we tried to organize them so we can present them,” Masidonski said.
One of the suggestions that comes up repeatedly, she said, is the traffic light cycles.
“We believe the yellow light timing is too short at the current three seconds,” Masidonski said, “which is the bare minimum and should be increased to the recommended 4-5 seconds for a 45 mile per hour speed zone.”
Flashing yellow warning signals leading to the lighted intersections, countdown timers, rumble strips, longer green lights, better and all-red clearance intervals — periods of time when all directions of traffic have red lights — were suggested as ways to possibly reduce the incidence of red light infractions and crashes at Columbia’s Route 3 intersections as well.
“Lastly, we know that they’re not legal in Monroe County, but we’d like to suggest red light cameras,” Masidonski added.
Currently, red light cameras are banned in non-home rule communities, including Columbia and Waterloo, by Illinois State Statute.
“There’s also a pedestrian walkway at that intersection and many high school and middle school students cross daily,” Masidonski said.
General traffic safety improvements suggested by the group included more signage, restrictions on the McDonald’s entrance to ease traffic jams, more crosswalks on Main Street and more rounded out the recommendations.
Columbia Police Chief Jerry Paul, who has been in communication with Masidonski and other members of the group since almost immediately following the Feb. 27 crash, addressed the council as well.
“I know that everybody in town has noticed an uptick in enforcement, and as far as our officers have basically been all hands on deck…,” Paul said. “And I can say myself there is not a day that goes by that I do not come to work since the fatal crash happened that I don’t talk to 4-5 people about Route 3 and Route 3 concerns.
“What we really need to do to make it sustainable is we’re looking at how we can get a car or cars out there — just traffic cars. That is all they do, all day long, they’re looking for these traffic violations you’re talking about.”
Paul noted he has spent a great deal of time learning from engineers about things like light cycles, traffic flow, and other elements of roadway management.
“Because we don’t want to do anything where we make a change and then it causes something else,” Paul said. “Like if we make changes on the Route 3 corridor then more people might start coming through North Main Street or on Bluff Road — where we make those roadways less safe because of something that we’ve done in the Route 3 corridor.”
Paul noted the police have had positive feedback about a police car with a mannequin that has been moved among the Route 3 intersections.
“That’s not sustainable either,” he said. “We need to replace that mannequin with a live policeman and we need that all the way through the corridor where people driving through there understand, hey, when you come through, you’ve got to be safe.”
The new traffic enforcement officer will be in a new black, unmarked car.
“But what we really need to do is we need to educate the public and we need to correct the poor driving behavior. That’s what we’re looking to do,” he said.
Paul said his monthly police report to the city council will in the future include a breakout of information on Route 3 traffic enforcement that will also be provided to the Facebook group.
“I think the biggest thing we want you to understand — and I think you’ve realized this — is it’s not falling on deaf ears. We will be bringing these things forward and we will be talking to the appropriate folks,” Hutchinson said.
“How we look at all this at the police department is that this is our new normal,” Paul said. “This is what we have to do to prevent that next bad crash. This is a priority, one of our core principles, and we have to do a better job of changing the drivers’ behaviors on Route 3.”