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I-39 meeting draws large crowd

Thursday, May 29, 2003 Posted 10:30 p.m.

Woodford County Board President Larry Whitaker addresses Minonk businessmen at City Hall Thursday night on the possible closing of the I-39 interchange for repairs.

A large crowd of concerned citizens showed up at City Hall Thursday night to learn more about the possible closure of the I-39 interchange at Minonk for repairs to the overpass. The meeting was organized by Mayor Mark Spencer to allow businessmen and residents alike to ask questions about the problem as well as to offer suggestions.

Former Mayor Dave Shirley started off the meeting by stating that the overpass is in deplorable condition and is in desparate need of repair. Shirley said that the $80,000 that the County would save in repair cost by shutting down the overpass is peanuts compared to the money that would be lost to businesses at the interchange. He added that the State has invested $300,000 and the city $450,000 in the infrastructure at the interchange. He said that local businesses and the City of Minonk should seek damages by suing the County if it shuts down the overpass.

Alderman Russell Ruestman said that suing the County should not be an option. He said the only option is to sit down and work together with the State and the County in an effort to avoid shutting down the overpass. Ruestman said that the City does not have the money to sue.

Bob Barth said that the whole county should be concerned since the overpass is part of one of the main routes leading west to the rest of the county. Other concerns raised included the potential truck traffic on Route 251 if the overpass is closed leading to crowded and dangerous driving conditions as well as potential damage to the road. Sean Cunningham said that the sales tax lost to the County by reduced business at the interchange would be more than the cost of keeping the interchange open during the repair.

Woodford County Chairman Larry Whitaker addressed the crowd after initial questions and concerns were raised. Whitaker said that the overpass is supposed to last 20 years but two years ago the County Road Commissioner noticed that there was deterioration in the road surface. Attempts to patch the surface did not fix the problem. The County determined that the surface underneath the road was the problem. Dave Uphoff asked if the subsurface problem was due to the shale from the Minonk Jumbo used in the fill mixture. Whitaker replied that he knows nothing about the Minonk Jumbo or if the shale is the source of the problem.

Whitaker said that the County shifted funds from other items to the I-39 overpass problem realizing the severity of the problem. He said that the County is not trying to turn its back on Minonk. He said that Minonk businesses have received 30% of the loan amounts from the County's economic development loan program. He said that the county has budgeted $498,522 for the repair of the overpass and is locked into that figure. That figure does not include the cost of keeping one or two lanes open during repair so as to keep the overpass open. The County estimated that it would cost $90,000 to keep one lane open during repair and $117,000 to keep two lanes open with a stop light during repair of the overpass. Dave Uphoff asked Whitaker why the County didn't budget for an amount that would include keeping one or two lanes open so as to avoid closing the overpass. Whitaker said that he did not have an answer.

Whitaker said that to close the interchange and use a detour would cost $2,500 and would require 30-35 work days to repair. He said that the original plan is to start work in September although the County has not yet met to discuss the overpass repair plan. Whitaker said that the cost of the repair will be 80% federally funded. However, to come up with the extra money to keep the interchange open would not be federally funded.

Russell Ruestman asked if the project can be delayed until next year in order to allow more time to come up with additional funds to keep the overpass open during repair. Whitaker replied that it would quite possible to delay the project until next year.

Ambulance Squad Chief Rob Fredericks said that if the interchange is closed down, it will add a minimum of 5 miles to get to an accident on the interstate which puts everyone's life at risk if an accident does occur.

Alderman Bill Koos said that the County must come up with the extra money to keep the overpass open. He said that it is not the City of Minonk's fault that the overpasses were faulty and the City should not have to bail itself out. He felt that County must set a precedence for future incidents like this for other cities having interstate accesses. Koos said that the County must hit a homerun on this one or else it will be a disaster for the City.

Whitaker replied that he is trying to find funding for the project. He said he has put more time on this project than any other. One possible source of funding may be to borrow money from the County's revolving loan fund. County board member Caroline Schertz said that it is time to stop complaining and to start thinking of ways to come up with the money needed to keep the overpass open during repair. County board member John Krug agreed saying that it is important that communications be kept open between Mayor Mark Spencer and County Board President Whitaker. Mayor Spencer agreed saying that he will be staying in touch with the County board on the matter.