Highland community leaders, along with family members of some of the city’s fallen service members, cut the ribbon on the city’s newest road, Veterans Honor Parkway, on Friday.
“This is an exciting day for all of us,” said Highland City Manager Mark Latham.
The road, which construction began on two years ago, is named in honor veterans from Highland who lost their lives while in service to the nation. Banners and kiosks placed along the route pay homage to 21 of the city’s heroes who have their all for their country.
“We appreciate the city fathers for naming this road for the veterans,” said Tony Haisler, a Korean War veteran and a member of VFW Post 5694 and American Legion Post 439, both in Highland.
“That’s what it’s all about,” said Highland Mayor Joe Michaelis.
Construction on the road, which is the second leg of Highland’s peripheral route, began two years ago. Weather and other issued delayed the opening about six weeks, but city leaders said the project should come in close to budget, with the city only picking up about ¾ of the $6.5 million total cost. Grants and funding from the state and county paid about $5 million of the bill.
“This is a very important road, this peripheral route,” said Highland City Manager Mark Latham, adding that the road will help traffic flow around the city.
Frank Watson Parkway, which links the intersection of U.S. Highway 40 and Hemlock on the western edge of the city with Koepfli Lane at Troxler Avenue and Illinois Route 143, was the first phase of the peripheral route.
Bob Korte is one Highland resident excited to use the new road. Korte, who attended the ribbon cutting ceremony, said he purchased a home on Wren Drive two years ago, specifically because the new road would make it easier for him to get around town.
“This (road) caused me to buy it,” he said. “And I’ve been happy ever since.”
Peggy Sebastian, president and CEO of HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital, said the road will mean easier access for people to get to the hospital, as well as decreased emergency response times to the eastern part of the city and areas beyond.
“We are indebted to the city for providing this road,” she said.
Friday’s event was only ceremonial. The new route, which extends from the intersection of Iberg and Michael Roads to the intersection of Troxler Avenue and U.S. Highway 40 is not set to open until after the weekend. Traffic lights at the intersection with U.S. Highway 40 will begin operating at 10 a.m. on Monday, which will signal traffic to begin flowing and a finality to decades of planning.
“They started this project — looking at it — in 1995,” said Latham.
But while the plans for the road were on the books for years, the city could never move forward. Simply put, the project never got off the ground, because the city could not get the ground. Since the road was built outside city limits, the city had no eminent domain powers to exercise and land owners were reluctant to sell.
That’s when the city looked to longtime Highland banker Dennis Rinderer to act as its negotiator.
“We wouldn’t be standing here – believe me – if it wasn’t for Dennis Rinderer, who, by his ability to communicate with people, was able to acquire the needed land during this project,” Michaelis said.
“It just went real good with all the farmers and everybody. And I just enjoyed doing it for the city of Highland and for myself and for everybody else, especially for Joe here,” said Rinderer, placing his hand on the mayor’s back, “... and Mark (Latham). They helped me out an awful lot.”
To honor Rinderer’s contribution to the project, the city named a park along the route after him. It is currently under construction.