The city of Fairview Heights will spend the next two years making major improvements to Commerce Lane and Market Place and building a roundabout where the two roads meet.
Officials view the $5 million project as a proactive way to maintain the long-term health of the shopping district west of Illinois 159 and north of Lincoln Trail. Area businesses include FedEx; Bed, Bath & Beyond; OfficeMax; Goodwill; Old Time Pottery; Weekends Only; Party City; Taco Bell; White Castle and Hooters.
"It will make it more attractive, it will slow traffic down a bit and it will reduce congestion," said Paul Ellis, the city's director of economic development.
Road work for the Lincoln Trail Streetscape Project will consist of new curbs and gutters, trees and other plantings, sidewalks, signs and medians with decorative street lights.
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Phase 1 will cover 900 feet of Market Place, from Illinois 159 to the rear of Petco and Designer Shoe Warehouse parcels. Construction is set to begin in early June.
"It's out for bid," Ellis said. "We've had several contractors respond."
During Phase I, Market Place will be widened from five to six lanes at Illinois 159, with an extra lane for eastbound traffic heading straight to St. Clair Square. Going west, the road will narrow from six to four lanes at Plaza Drive, near FedEx, and eventually drop down to two lanes.
Two other changes are expected to help reduce congestion, Ellis said. An island will divide westbound and eastbound traffic on Market Place at Illinois 159, and cars going south on Plaza Drive or north from Fairview City Centre near Taco Bell will no longer be allowed to go straight or turn left, only right.
Phase II is the roundabout, and Phase III will cover Commerce Lane going north and south from the roundabout and Market Place from the roundabout to the end of Phase I.
"The engineering (for the roundabout) is virtually complete," Ellis said. "We need to talk to the property owners and get easements from them."
Commerce Lane and Market Place serve several shopping centers, including Fairview City Centre, Commercial Plaza, Market Place and Market Place Commons, as well as Vatterott College.
Adam Greenberg, a vice president for leasing with New York-based DLC Management Corp., saw preliminary plans for the streetscape project during a visit to Illinois last year. His company manages Market Place, the shopping center with Best Buy on one end and Burlington on the other.
"It's always a good thing to make the area more inviting and draw more people in," he said. "So I'm looking forward to seeing how it turns out."
Yong Cho, whose husband, Taewan, owns King's Beauty Supply in Market Place Commons, hadn't heard about the streetscape project last week, but she supports any beautification efforts that will keep the shopping center full of quality tenants.
King's employee Sue Brodsky noted that the section of Market Place near Illinois 159 gets congested to the point of gridlock at Christmas and other busy times. The only downside of improvements, she said, is living through road construction.
"It will be wonderful after it's done, but in the meantime, we're going to be in trouble," she said. "People don't like to go to businesses where work is being done. But when it's over, it's going to be wonderful."
The Lincoln Trail Streetscape Project's total cost is estimated at $5 million. About $850,000 for Phase 1 will be paid for with a $392,500 federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grant and city funds, including some money from the Lincoln Trail tax-increment-financing district, Ellis said.
More grants are being sought for Phase II and Phase III.
Ellis describes Fairview Heights as the "center of retail in Southern Illinois." Store sales and occupancy rates remain strong, he said, but the city doesn't want to be passive and let its shopping districts age and deteriorate without improvements that will help businesses grow and transition.
According to a Lincoln Trail Streetscape Project summary, the plan follows a Complete Streets policy adopted by Fairview Heights in 2013 to "ensure that bicyclists, pedestrians and transit riders are considered along with those of motorists in planning for any transportation corridor."