Local News

$1.8M DeKalb Lincoln Highway reconstruction to ‘recapture downtown’ set to begin next week

A truck goes through the intersection of Lincoln Highway and Second Street Tuesday, May 24, 2022 in DeKalb. Road construction will be starting soon on the section of Lincoln Highway between First and Fourth Streets.

DeKALB – While walking along Lincoln Highway in downtown DeKalb during spring, one might hear birds chirping, wind blowing through newly-sprouted tree leaves and a 12.5-ton semi truck hauling a full load roaring past.

City of DeKalb leaders say it’s their hope that a $1.7 million streetscaping undertaking on Lincoln Highway might ease that last sound, and make downtown friendlier to pedestrians.

It’s also likely to significantly impact those who frequent downtown this summer, whether motorists, bicyclists or pedestrians. In recent weeks, as the DeKalb City Council wrapped up final contractual votes ahead of the construction -- slated to begin next week and completed by Corn Fest in August -- city officials have said it’s their intent to minimize business and customer inconvenience.

The work will bring Lincoln Highway from four lanes down to three, and widen the walking areas by about five feet.

A $1.76 million contract was approved last month with DeKalb-based Elliott & Woods, Inc. for the construction plans. And second contract, for $124,925 was also approved with engineering consultant Fehr-Graham & Associates, based in northern Illinois.

DeKalb’s City Engineer Zac Gill said that the project is “the downtown recaptured.”

“We’re completing the project in the hopes of calming traffic, especially truck traffic, along that section of Lincoln Highway,” Gill said.

Planning for the project began more than two years ago. The city expects to pay for the project through its only remaining tax increment finance district, which spans only the downtown strip which the city calls the Central Business District. Under the Illinois TIF Act, TIF dollars, which are specially identified property taxes, can be used for areas of redevelopment and rehabilitation.

“The construction will not close anything down, and all stores and restaurants will still be open for business,” Gill said.

Construction on the project will begin the week after Memorial Day, Gill confirmed. In Elliott & Wood Inc.’s construction contract, the project’s completion date is Aug. 19, city officials confirmed.

Corn Fest will be be held Aug. 26 through Aug. 28 in downtown DeKalb.

Vickie Obermiller, owner of Kid Stuff, 149 W. Lincoln Highway, said she’s looking forward to having additional sidewalk space.

“A lot of the sidewalk along downtown is very narrow,” Obermiller said. “I have sidewalk sales once or twice a year, and the additional space will definitely help.”

Obermiller said that she also hopes the project will lessen speeding truck traffic.

“I’ve been here 24 years, and the rate of speed of the large trucks is always a concern,” Obermiller said. “Foot traffic has recently picked up lately, and it will be nice to see more of that again soon. We have been through some major construction projects in the past, and I know we’ll get through this one.”

Vickie Obermiller, owner of Kid Stuff at 149 East Lincoln Highway in DeKalb sets some merchandise on the sidewalk Tuesday, May 24, 2022. Road construction will be starting soon on the section of Lincoln Highway between First and Fourth Streets which will afford some businesses more sidewalk space in front of their stores.

Lane reduction roadmap

The project will turn a four-lane section of East Lincoln Highway, from First Street to the middle of the block between Third and Fourth streets, into three lanes. The railroad crossing at the intersection of Lincoln Highway and Fourth streets will not be included in the project.

The section of East Lincoln Highway from First to Fourth streets currently has four lanes of traffic: Two east-bound and two west-bound. The project will alter the traffic pattern so there will be three lanes in total: one eastbound lane, one westbound lane and one turn lane in the center, Gill said.

The new three-lane roadway will be resurfaced with new striping.

After Memorial Day, barricades will be set up and marked alone the sidewalk and roadway. Soon afterwards, sidewalk pavers will be removed, stacked and stored at a separate location. The existing curb will be removed and the sidewalks will be extended. A new curbline will be established, which will widen the area by about five feet.

The reconstructed walkways on either side of the street will feature charcoal gray-colored cement and brown and red pavers, according to construction plans outlined by Gill Wednesday.

Standard uncolored concrete will be used along storefronts and near crosswalks.

“It will increase the hard scape surface for walking along the downtown area,” Gill said. “Shops will be permitted to have cafe tables and shopping racks. Pedestrians will be a comfortable, safe distance away from the roadway.”

Parking will remain parallel along the street in both directions. Only one parking space will be removed in front of Lord Stanley’s, 142 E. Lincoln Highway. The sidewalk near the front of Lord Stanley’s has a raised bump, which will be flattened out. In flattening the bump, a parking spot will be lost, Gill said.

Cement planters along the street will remain in place, and there’s no plan to add more in the construction, Gill said.

Gill also said that there is also no immediate plan to add new light fixtures to downtown DeKalb.

“We are adding conduits underneath the sidewalk so that we add new light fixtures later, after reevaluation,” Gill said. “We will also look into stone crosswalks. Due to pricing and availability, we were unable to include that in this project. We contemplated a sandstone color and pattern, but that can be done later.”

Gill said the construction will also include updates to downtown pedestrian areas to make them more accessible in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

New sidewalk ramps for crosswalks will be added to each intersection and two audio assisted crosswalks will be added at the intersections of Lincoln Highway and Second and Third streets. The crosswalks will have audio beaconing, which can help pedestrians orient themselves and announce when it’s safe to cross the street.

Future components which Gill said are planned for later this year include construction of a bike route parallel to Lincoln Highway along Grove Street that will connect to First Street.

Sisters Kat Willrett and Mary Grace McCauley, who own Willrett Flower Company, 302 E. Lincoln Highway are already anticipating ways to use the extra outdoor space. The duo plans to open up their shop in June.

“We’re so excited, we think it’s great,” Willrett said. “We’d love to incorporate the additional sidewalk space into our events and use it to display items.”

McCauley said that is looking forward to having the additional sidewalk space for Corn Fest.

“We will definitely participate in Corn Fest,” she said. “We’re at a great location for it and can’t wait.”