Nearly 4,000 metro-east residents are demanding change on Illinois 3 due to what many are calling "deadly" conditions on the highway following a crash that killed a 41-year-old mother of six Feb 26.
And Monday night, Columbia's police chief spoke at the bi-monthly City Council meeting to address the need for change to avoid fatal crashes.
Emily Webb was killed and her six children were hospitalized after a crash at the intersection of Illinois 3 and Veterans Parkway when a dump truck collided with her family's SUV.
Now, community members are calling for change on what they call a dangerous stretch of highway, citing high speed limits, congestion and reckless driving as the cause of serious accidents.
Many are part of the Facebook group "Citizens Demanding Change Illinois Route 3, Columbia Illinois," which has grown from 300 to 3,700 members since last week's crash. The creator of the group, Tara Masidonski, started it after a near-fatal crash in July 2015 in the same intersection as the crash that killed Webb.
"It helps bring to light that there needs to be some type of change on Route 3," Masidonski said. "We don't know what the answers are; we're just a voice of the community. Maybe we can give officials some ideas ... But this wasn't a problem that was created overnight, so it's not going to be solved overnight."
Some members, such as Waterloo resident Norah Baker, said the February crash encouraged her to speak out about an issue she has long been concerned about.
"Coming down to this area on my commute, I have seen a lot of devastation in the past two years. I think the problem has gotten worse," Baker said. "There's been more congestion on that stretch of road, more and more people are put at risk."
Columbia Police Chief Jerry Paul said he has been working with the Illinois Department of Transportation since the crash to see what could be done about the intersection.
Paul addressed City Council on Monday to speak about the Illinois 3 corridor that runs through Columbia. The stoplights on the road are synchronized, so if drivers are going the speed limit, they should hit every green light and not have to worry about speeding up or slowing down for a yellow light, Paul said. The problem comes when people start speeding, he said.
In the 24 years that Paul has been an officer with Columbia police, the Illinois 3 corridor has been a concern, he said. When he was hired as a patrol officer, the deputy chief sat him down to express the importance of monitoring that area.
"He said, 'Whenever you do not have other tasks that you're doing, I want you on parkway; I want you on the Route 3 corridor. I want you addressing speeding; I want you addressing light violations, DUI offenses and just the traffic offenses in that corridor,'" Paul said. "That has been a priority for every officer."
Illinois State Police and Columbia police were investigating Feb. 26's fatal accident and the intersection in which it occurred. Once ISP's crash reconstruction is completed, Columbia Mayor Kevin Hutchinson said the city plans to work with IDOT to see if any steps can be taken to improve the corridor.
Guy Tridgelll, spokesman for IDOT, said if police determine improvements are warranted, "we can certainty start to implement those."
Baker said drivers often exceed the speed limit and drive recklessly. Her main concern is the intersection by the Monroe County YMCA, where she said the lack of a traffic light makes "trying to get in and out of that area terrifying."
"I have three daughters; I'm having to utilize this road two or three times a week with precious cargo and it's terrifying," she said. "I hope this can spread some awareness and hopefully open IDOT District 8's eyes."
Tridgell said IDOT is "happy and ready to listen and talk to all stakeholders if there are any concerns in their community."
Like Baker, however, he emphasized most crashes occur because of of driver error.
"The vast majority of crashes we see are the result of drivers not obeying the law or not paying attention," he said. "There's only so much we can do from an engineering perspective. It certainly helps when people are paying attention and not speeding and are actively engaged behind the wheel."
Several years ago, IDOT reduced the speed limit on a section of the roadway from 65 mph to 55 mph at the request of the Illinois State Police. Some say the speed is still too high for the area, even though it drops to 45 mph at the intersection where Webb was killed.
Dupo resident Carrie Martin-Bivins knows the danger of distracted driving from personal experience. In 2002, she was run over by a semi on the Poplar Street Bridge while changing a tire. After a long recovery, she said she is dedicated to making sure others are not hurt by dangerous driving.
Martin-Bivins said people in the area "never drive the speed limit. They don't even just go five over; they drive way too fast." She also said people "are always running the red lights."
"What really bothers me is the way people drive when kids are getting off school," she said.
Three stop lights dot Illinois 3 in Columbia within three miles of one another. Two of the lights are at the intersections of schools — Columbia Middle School and Columbia High School.
Martin-Bivins said she's heard many suggestions about how to make the highway less dangerous, such as radar signs signaling to drivers how fast they are going and a pedestrian bridge for students to walk across.
What most of the community and its leaders agree on, it seems, is nothing will change without drivers taking the responsibility to drive safely.
"People are constantly seeing cars run red lights; it's an epidemic," she said. "People wouldn't go into a store and shoplift lipstick, but they get in their car and speed and run lights and that's just as illegal."
Webb died at Illinois 3 and Veterans Parkway Feb. 26. The seven family members were in a Chevrolet Tahoe, and the six children were taken to the hospital, Columbia Police Chief Jerry Paul said in a previous interview. Out of respect for the privacy of the family, Paul has not released the condition of the children.
Baker said she passed the crash on Route 3 last week as first responders were arriving on scene.
"That was what got me. It was a sight to be seen definitely," she said.
Michelle Bumb Miller, Emily Webb's cousin, said the children range in ages from 4 to 13. She added that Emily Webb and her husband, Bryan Webb, met in high school and had been together for almost 15 years.
A GoFundMe for the family Miller began on raised nearly $90,000 as of Monday afternoon.
Kaley Johnson: 618-239-2526, @KaleyJohnson6
Kara Berg: 618-239-2626, @karaberg95