COLLINSVILLE — The orange cones are back on Illinois 159, and Collinsville residents will have to drive between them until 2016.
The final phase of the Illinois 159 project in Collinsville is under way. The three-phase, $54 million project began several years ago to widen, straighten and renovate Illinois 159 through the city.
Now the stretch from the north end of downtown to Belt Line Road is a construction zone subject to lane closures.
"Right now we're doing preliminary utility relocation work," said project implementation engineer Jeff Church. "We need to figure out the depth of the utilities so we don't damage them."
The heavy construction will likely will begin next spring, Church said. But it is not a quick project: work is slated to continue into the summer of 2016.
In all, the Illinois 159 project has affected at least 220 properties, some of which were purchased and demolished. The primary goal was to straighten an S-curve through downtown, in an effort to let traffic move more quickly through Collinsville.
Phase one covered the stretch from south of the Brooks Catsup Bottle to Church Street, and the second phase went through Main Street and the S-curve with multiple one-way streets.
Funding originally included only land acquisition for the third phase, encompassing the stretch north of Main Street. In 2012, the third phase was dropped off the budget for the Illinois Department of Transportation, but was added back to the list after political outcry.
Now the $11.8 million cost of phase three has been funded, Church said.
Not everyone is pleased with the project: resident Vicki Thomas, who lives on Vandalia in the middle of the historic stretch, was on the citizens advisory panel for IDOT. While the 200-foot tree on her 1860s property is safe, she said cutting down the other trees to expand the road will eradicate a piece of Collinsville's history.
"It's sickening," Thomas said. "My block has 11 100-year-old trees that are coming down ... This block has been this way since this block was built."
Thomas said she believes the expansion is not going to benefit the city itself. "It's not for us to get around the community, it's for people driving through Collinsville," she said. "Supposedly this is progress, but to me it's not progress at all. We could have thought of another way to go."
Once completed, Illinois 159 will be four or five lanes all the way through Collinsville, which IDOT hopes will alleviate congestion and bring more traffic into the Main Street area.
"The good news is that you will have one lane in each direction the entire time; you will not have to wait for flaggers on one-way streets," Church said. "And by the end of the project, you'll have a nice, expanded section of road and a smoother commute."
The contractor on this phase of the project is Baxmeyer Construction Inc. of Waterloo.
Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2507.