Businesses along Route 47 in Woodstock and at the highway’s intersections with Lake Avenue and McConnell Road are making preparations for a multimillion-dollar road construction project that will change traffic flows in the area with the installation of roundabouts.
Some are excited for improvements to the state thoroughfare they say gets jammed up with vehicles bumper to bumper during certain times of day, which gives some residents pause when considering heading to shops or restaurants in the area.
Others are nervous about continuing to do business with roadwork near their properties and are unsure whether the traffic problem warrants the $57 million in state funds earmarked for the project last year by Illinois lawmakers.
Ted London, an owner of the Roscoe Woodstock Antique Mall on Lake Avenue just west of Route 47, is among those unconvinced the project is necessary and if the trouble will really be worth the hassle.
He is skeptical that the Route 47 project, which is meant to expand the road from Route 14 to Route 120, will achieve its goal of relieving traffic congestion. He also is anxious to learn the final details of the project and how it could change traffic patterns near his business while the work is ongoing.
“That traffic has to flow. Where is it going to flow during construction? Nobody knows what’s going on,” London said. “It’s not just as easy as putting in a roundabout is going to solve problems. A lot of us are in limbo.”
Kelly Alimovski, an owner of the 3 Brothers Restaurant, was also feeling like the future of his business was uncertain earlier this year because of the planned Route 47 upgrades, which require the state to acquire about a third of the eatery’s parking lot. He already expects to remove at least part of his waiting area because of the work.
He decided to to buy the former Woodstock’s Furniture Store building directly to the south of the 40-year-old restaurant in the spring to hedge against the risk that the state would need to take more of the property than planned or that changes would require the building’s footprint – and seating capacity – to be reduced in size.
Alimovski, who had worried a full-on move might become necessary, said he now thinks that is unlikely, but the additional parking spots obtained by the former furniture store purchase remain an important pickup. Some spaces will be lost to the highway expansion, he said.
“We had to make sure staying in the area happens,” he said
Niko Kanakaris, who operates the Niko’s Red Mill Tavern on Lake Avenue just east of Route 47, is betting on more success in the area as the road project looms.
He is working to open a new restaurant at the former Coleman’s site, which was vacated earlier this year. Kanakaris said he thinks the Route 47 project will be good for the city and local businesses.
He said he avoids driving on Route 47 when coming to Niko’s from his Huntley home because of the traffic, especially in the summer when tourists heading to Wisconsin for vacations clog the road through Woodstock.
“Businesses on 47 might struggle during road construction. They’re going to benefit twice as much when the road is done. They’re going to have great visibility for the travelers,” Kanakaris said, adding that he still hopes to open in the former Coleman’s location by spring.
He predicted vacant commercial properties along the Route 47 corridor would start to fill up with occupants once the road work nears completion.
Jim Pietrarosso, a senior broker with the Brown Commercial Group real estate firm, agreed.
He predicted a vacant storefront he is working to sell on Route 47 right at the intersection with McConnell will prosper from the road project. It has seen some interest from a party who indicated it may pursue a retail venture at the location, he said.
“Knowing [the Route 47] widening is coming is probably kind of hurting a little bit because the construction will have to take place. Afterwards, we think it’s all upside,” Pietrarosso said. “I think it’s definitely a plus. There are people who may avoid going during certain times because it’s so backed up. With the better flow of traffic, now people will just go.”
Garrett Anderson, the city of Woodstock’s economic development director, said the owners of property the state has to obtain in order to complete the project could see offers as soon as this spring. Construction could then follow in 2022 or 2023.
City officials are working to assemble plans to handle the various needs of some businesses along Route 47 related to the project, including variances to zoning codes on setback distances from the road, sign placements and parking and traffic flow changes, Anderson said.
A median will be placed in the middle of the highway, meaning the shared turn lane will no longer allow motorists to turn either direction to access businesses off the road.
Some rejigging of the road may involve businesses creating access points between their locations that can be driven on without having to go back out onto the highway, Anderson said. A cross-connection between the current 3 Brother’s location and Kingston Lanes could allow motorists access to both those businesses and some in-between without needing to use the highway, he said.
“I want to have some new guidelines ready for what the parking variance looks like, what does the signage variance look like, what does the setback variance look like. That’s going to create a lot of reinvestment,” Anderson said. “A lot of people are going to be retweaking how the traffic flow looks on their site, how the signage looks, what the storefront looks like.”
Four buildings are set to be removed because of the Route 47 project, according to a preliminary project map shared by Anderson. They include the Dwight’s Auto structure near McConnell, the nearby Mambo Car Wash, the Gas Cap Fuels building near Country Club Road and a vacant structure at Judd Street and Irving Avenue.
More structures may need to be removed along Route 47 during a second, still unfunded and unscheduled phase of improvements to the highway through the rest of the city.
The first, funded phase of the road project is designed to increase pedestrian and cyclist accessibility to businesses along Route 47, Anderson said. The project involves building a pedestrian walkway on the west side of the road and a shared path for pedestrians and bicyclists on the east side with marked crosswalks at all intersections.
Between Lake Avenue and McConnell Road, all pedestrian and bicycle traffic will be routed along the east side of Route 47 through a newly constructed tunnel under the railroad tracks, he said.