It’s all about safety. That’s the city’s main selling point for a proposed underpass beneath Troxler Avenue that would link the campuses of Highland High School and Highland Middle School.
“We have more than 100 students crossing Troxler a day, and traffic is increasing each year,” said Steve Keil of the engineering firm Oates Associates, which the city hired to design the underpass.
Troxler Avenue is already a busy thoroughfare, carrying 9,000 vehicles per day. And, with completion of Veterans Honor Parkway (the city’s northeast peripheral route), traffic along Troxler is projected to climb even further.
Currently, there is a crosswalk stoplight that provides safety to pedestrians as they traverse Troxler. The light stays green unless someone pushes the crosswalk button.
The new proposed crossing would be a 10-foot-wide path, 520 feet long, from the high school’s entrance to north of the middle school parking lot. The underpass itself would be a precast concrete box culvert, 12 feet wide by 8 feet high, 90 feet long.
We have more than 100 students crossing Troxler a day, and traffic is increasing each year.
Steve Keil, Oates Associates engineering firm
The city hosted an informational meeting on the project on June 8. Few people attended.
Brad Korte, chairman of Highland’s Combined Planning and Zoning Board, was one who did. Korte said he “came in with no preconceived notions” about the proposed underpass plan, but he liked what he saw.
“I think this is a good idea,” Korte said. “This would deter possible car accidents, because there are many inexperienced drivers and kids that drive on and cross Troxler.”
Bernell Deuser, who lives on Lindenthal, was also at the meeting, but disagreed with Korte on the plan’s merits.
“There will be a lot of bullies underneath that pass, and I’m totally against this,” said Deuser. “I would be for an overpass, because that water table (around Troxler) is high, and I’m worried about flooding. This looks good on paper, but this is a bad project.”
Water was the culprit for past issues along Troxler’s concrete surface that created a washboard-like effect for drivers. The city had to go back and put French drains under Troxler to fix the problem.
However, when it comes to the tunnel, engineers said they are considering installing a pump station to alleviate any drainage issues, and there are already storm sewers in the area that can be tapped into.
Highland’s other underpass
This isn’t the first underground crossing in Highland. An old tunnel under Broadway at Lemon Street was closed a number of years ago. Vandalism was often an issue there.
Rob Bowman served as a city councilman, then as mayor, when discussions where held to close the Lemon Street crossing. He also attended the June 8 meeting.
This would deter possible car accidents, because there are many inexperienced drivers and kids that drive on and cross Troxler.
Brad Korte, chairman of Highland’s Combined Planning and Zoning Board
Bowman said he was undecided on whether the new tunnel was a good idea or not. However, comparing the Lemon Street crossing with the Troxler proposal was apples and oranges, he said.
“This new tunnel is way different. The Lemon Street tunnel has steps that go underground, and is narrow and dark,” Bowman said. “Because of that, it was prone to vandalism. It didn’t have security cameras, and anyone could use it at anytime.”
Security cameras have been proposed for the entire length of the new passage, which would also be well-lit at all times, and it would have greater visibility from the outside looking in.
This looks good on paper, but this is a bad project.
Bernell Deuser of Highland, underpass opponent
“Just the presence of the cameras can deter crime. Anyone using the tunnel will be using it during events and when school is in session,” Bowman said. “It’s bigger. It’s wider, and they made the mouth really wide, so that adds the feel of a much larger tunnel to add more light in.”
City officials have also had discussions of installing “panic” buttons pedestrians could use to summon police in case of an emergency.
Why not an overpass?
Building an overpass instead of an underpass was one of the main arguments of opponents to the idea, but an overpass comes with its own drawbacks.
“Building an overpass would cost two or three times as much compared to building an underpass,” said David Oates of Oates Associates. “We’d have to build it high enough for trucks to get under, making it about 20 feet high.”
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations would also require there be one foot of ramp for every inch of rise. So, in order to build an overpass of the size required to go over Troxler, the ramp would need to extend 200 feet beyond the high school.
And, there are different safety issues when it come to an overpass versus an underpass, said Keil, the engineer with Oates Associates.
“If we built an overpass, you have to worry about kids throwing things down at the cars below,” Keil said.
Oates, the same company that assisted the Edwardsville School District with a similar project, is also putting together the city’s application for an Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program (ITEP) grant. The City Council voted June 6 to seek the grant funding.
The estimated cost of the project is around $1 million. The ITEP grant is an 80/20 match, with the city responsible for 20 percent. Madison County has been matching the city’s portion of federal grants. The city would seek Madison County’s support with this project, too.
There would be no cost to the Highland School District.
The city won’t know until the end of the year if it will receive grant funding. Highland will be competing against others across the state for the same pool of available money. If funding is acquired, the earliest the project could start would be 2018. Troxler would likely be shut down two to three weeks that summer in order to complete the work.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How large will the tunnel be?
A: The tunnel will be 12 feet wide by 8 feet high, which is wider than a typical school corridor.
Q: Will truck traffic need to be restricted on Troxler Avenue?
A: No, the tunnel will be designed to support truck traffic.
Q: With traffic continuing to increase on Troxler Avenue, it is expected to expanded to five lanes in the future. Does this tunnel take that into consideration?
A: Yes, the length of the pedestrian underpass is sufficient for the future road expansion.
Q: What about visibility?
A: There will be visibility from the top of the ramps, through the tunnel, to the other side, similar to the tunnel at Edwardsville High School.
Q: What about security?
A: In addition to good visibility into the tunnel, the tunnel will also have security cameras, lighting, and an interactive voice communication unit.
Source: City of Highland