What’s planned for Gary Avenue roadwork, detour in Wheaton

A stretch of Gary Avenue in Wheaton has a rustic flavor unlike most parts of the city, taking drivers past a tavern that dates to the repeal of Prohibition on a road without curbs and gutters.

Drivers should expect a new look to the arterial road if the city moves forward with a $4 million project aimed at easing backups at intersections and improving bicycle and pedestrian access to Cosley Zoo, the Wheaton Sports Center and other Gary Avenue landmarks.

The construction zone would span Gary from Jewell Road to Harrison Avenue, a connector route between Wheaton’s downtown and neighboring Winfield and Carol Stream.

Plans call for tearing up and reconstructing the pavement, building a multiuse path on the east side of the road along the entire project corridor, and putting in a traffic signal at Gary and Prairie avenues.

At the earliest, the work could begin in 2023, a timeline contingent upon the city receiving federal grants to help fund the project.

Crews would stage construction to direct local traffic on a segment of Gary from Jewell Road to Prairie Avenue.

But south of Prairie, engineers have proposed a significant shutdown -- a full road closure -- running to Harrison Avenue. A detour route of about 3.5 miles would shift Jewell Road traffic south to County Farm Road, east to Manchester Road, then Front Street and back to Gary.

The contractor, however, would be required to provide access from the north to Rosie O’Reilly’s, the bar formerly known as The Gables, engineers say.

Engineers say a full detour would require less temporary pavement and grading in wetland areas around where Gary runs over Winfield Creek. A culvert under the road also would be extended as part of the project.

“We did look at possible temporary roadway, but when you’re dealing with a high water table such as what’s there currently, you’re going to run into problems with stabilizing the roadway,” said Sarang Lagvankar, the city’s senior project engineer.

Consultants from Thomas Engineering Group, an Oak Brook firm, recently outlined the details of the project. Here’s a look at what’s planned.

Bike path

The eight-foot-wide path would run along Gary from Jewell to Harrison.

Engineers say it would provide a safe, off-street route accommodating both pedestrians and bicyclists headed to Cosley Zoo and the Wheaton Sports Center, a health club at the end of Prairie Avenue.

The existing sidewalk on the west side of Gary also would be extended south to provide a link between the Prairie intersection and the zoo entrance.

The zoo is owned by the Wheaton Park District, which supports the proposed project, Executive Director Mike Benard said.

“Improvements to traffic flow and safety on Gary Avenue would positively impact public access to Cosley Zoo,” he said.


The road would be widened at the approach to the Gary and Prairie intersection to allow for a northbound left-turn lane, along with a new traffic signal.

Drivers now experience “significant delays” trying to exit Prairie because of high traffic on Gary, engineers say.

“What people are going to probably realize is once you put a turn lane in there with the signal, traffic may actually flow better during peak hours just because you’re not blocking the roadway,” Lagvankar said.

At the project’s northern limit, the northbound left-turn lane at Jewell Road would be lengthened to help fix backup issues at that intersection.

Roadwork, timeline

Curbs and gutters also will be installed along Gary Avenue.

Further south, the city will maintain a two-lane road.

“It’s really limited as far as widening because you have wetlands on either side,” Lagvankar said.

Engineers estimate roughly 0.3 acre of wetlands are expected to be permanently affected by construction activity. The city would look to mitigate that impact at an off-site wetland bank.

Clearance from the Illinois Department of Transportation on potential impacts to threatened or endangered species is still pending, officials said.

The project team hopes to begin a second phase of design work in 2022.