It's been tough at times to get around the intersection of Illinois 158 and South Belt West over the past 15 months because of a complicated roundabout project that has caused numerous detours and road closures.
But Tom Borsch, Illinois Department of Transportation acting supervising field engineer, (*16*)said the project is several months ahead of schedule and that he hopes things will get a lot better -- for motorists as well as local business operators -- soon.
"Weather permitting, as early as next week they will start putting northbound 158 on the roundabout" and reconnect it to South Belt West, Borsch said. "Southbound will still use the temporary run-around that's in use now for a while longer. But by May 1 we hope to have westbound 15 onto 158 tied in."
Borsch said the whole project, originally pegged to be done in October of November, could be done by the middle of this summer.
"That's what we're saying right now, provided that we can dodge too many raindrops, by early summer we're planning to be done with everything and having all traffic running," Borsch said.
Right now, northbound traffic on Illinois 158 is forced on to a bypass to the west of the old intersection with South Belt West and must turn left to continue on their way.
Lyle Rowden, owner of Far East Fitness at 813 South Belt West, said he's thrilled to hear the work is expected to be done early. He opened his business in January 2013 just as work on the north roundabout began. He said it's cut his projected membership and sales in half. He had to lay off a full-time staff member because of the tough times and in the first quarter of 2014, when people are making their New Year's resolution to get in shape, he pulled all his advertising because there was no point.
"I attribute a lot of that to the road being closed inhibiting people from visiting us," Rowden said. "I knew I had to ride this thing out until the construction was done before I could make any more investment in staff.
"With that said, I don't want to put a negative spin on it," Rowden said. "I think the final product is going to be a huge improvement over what was there before. Having three stop lights in less than 100 yards was ridiculous. I just wish I would have realized the scope of this project before I started. I should have waited a year to open."
The three stoplights that used to gum up traffic from South Belt West south under Illinois 15 are being replaced by the pair of roundabouts that will keep traffic moving.
The smaller roundabout to the south was finished in the fall and allows traffic from eastbound Illinois 15 to come and go from Illinois 158.
The larger roundabout to the north will handle South Belt West traffic while funneling through cars from Centerville Avenue south.
A bypass ramp will allow westbound cars on South Belt West to head west on Illinois 15 without entering the roundabout.
"It has a few features that you don't typically see in a roundabout," Borsch said. "But people will adapt to it quickly and get used to the way that it functions. Once we get it open, people will like it a lot better."
Borsch said the current contract for the $4.7 million job to build the two roundabouts and to connect them won't be reduced because the work is done early. He said those were bid contracts so the price is firm.
Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at email@example.com or call 618-239-2626.