Belleville business leaders believe road projects will spur economic growth

News-DemocratAugust 22, 2013 

Belleville business leaders have set a wish list for road projects they believe will spur economic development in the city.

The Belleville Chamber of Commerce approved the list on Tuesday during a board meeting. The projects range widely in costs and scale, and some are not funded.

John Lengerman, executive director of the chamber, said the chamber adopted the list as a way to advocate for funding from local legislators.

"It's all about economic development from our perspective on those projects," Lengerman said. "As well as streamlining in some dangerous situations that exist on Frank Scott Parkway and Green Mount Road. It's very tough for folks to drive up and down those streets."

The Illinois Department of Transportation does not rank the necessity of future projects in a publicly-available list, according to Tiffany Brase, a programming engineer with the department. The state does prepare a five-year plan for future projects, which includes several of the chamber's preferred projects.

Within Belleville, many of the projects involve widening heavily-traveled roads or extending the roadways. The hope is to alleviate traffic congestion to make it easier to drive in Belleville, Lengerman said.

The projects would help eliminate the "clumsiness" of reaching Belleville from Interstate 64 and Illinois 13/15, Lengerman explained. For example, the chamber would like to see lanes added to Green Mount Road from Illinois 13/15 to Frank Scott Parkway East.

Lengerman said that personally he would "love to see" extending Illinois 158, also known as Air Mobility Drive, southwest to Illinois 13/15. The extension would help develop from Southwestern Illinois College to Scott Air Force Base and ease traffic near the base, he said.

"That really develops the east end of Belleville, really where we have space to develop," Lengerman said. "It will help with some of the traffic congestion on Green Mount Road. It has been in the works for a long time, and at some point we need to get that rolling."

The state has acquired the right of way for the extension from Illinois 158 to Mascoutah Avenue, but not for the extension to reach Illinois 13/15.

Neighboring property owners may not welcome the extension, but "if you look at the big picture, it is well thought out and well designed," Lengerman said.

The Illinois 158 extension is an example of a project in need of funding. The estimated cost of the project is about $80 million.

"If we could get all those projects, it would be great. Funding, though, is the biggest stumbling block from the state," Lengerman said.

Regionally, the chamber endorsed the construction of the interchange at the intersection of Rieder Road and Interstate 64 and a high speed railroad passenger station in East St. Louis.

The station in East St. Louis would combine Metrolink and MetroBus stations with a high speed rail line from St. Louis to Chicago. The hope is the station would help redevelop East St. Louis. Sites currently are being considered for selection.

The Rieder Road interchange is planned to begin construction next summer and is part of a $59.1 million plan to widen Interstate 64 and improve Rieder Road and Cardinal Creek Gate at Scott Air Force Base.

Richard Ellerbrake with Citizens for Smart Growth: Stop158, a grassroots citizens group, said the Rieder Road interchange is not a well-conceived project. The group has a host of concerns with the interchange, such as development sprawling east at the expense of communities to the west, hindering Scott Air Force Base with the development of nearby land, and the cost of building the interchange when other local roads and bridges are deteriorating.

"This is going to encourage the continuation of the sprawling eastern perimeter of the metro-east," Ellerbrake said. "The expansion and all the associated cost and expense is a tough thing for a population of citizens not changing much in size. The burden will be heavier for communities because they will lose business activity and (taxing districts) will tax even more because they are servicing the new area and the old."

Ellerbrake said the perception that building upon undeveloped land is cheaper does not consider the cost of lost business and constructing infrastructure.

"If we recovered some of the inner parts of cities, it would do a lot more for the whole community," Ellerbrake said. "We continually think of East St. Louis as an unpolished gem in our midst, which should be saved, rehabilitated and made into what it could be considering its terrifically, fine location and potential."

Ellerbrake said he was "delighted" the chamber did not include the proposed Gateway Connector in their priorities list. The controversial corridor would stretch south of the Interstate 55/70 near Troy through O'Fallon and connect with Interstate 255 near Columbia.

"The Gateway Connector is a very obsolete idea," Ellerbrake said. "It was not great in the beginning and is becoming increasingly apparent it is inappropriate."

Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at dkelley@bnd.com or 618-239-2501.

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