Woodstock City Council open to spending up to $6.4 million on enhanced landscaping, concrete, lighting as part of Route 47 improvements

Officials direct staff to aim high, will cut expenses from ‘Cadillac’ design versions if necessary

Vehicles travel to their destinations by way of the intersection of Lake Avenue and Route 47 on Monday, Nov. 30, 2020, in Woodstock. The intersection will become a roundabout as part of the Route 47 widening project.

As Route 47 gets widened and roundabouts installed in Woodstock over the next couple of years, city officials want to take the opportunity to enhance the appearance of the thoroughfare, with hopes it motivates owners of blighted properties to spruce them up.

So far, the Woodstock City Council has not balked at an estimated price tag of about $6.4 million for the most comprehensive package of landscaping, specialty lighting, stamped colored concrete and public art to accompany the infrastructural improvements along Route 47, which are being mainly funded by the state and are slated to cost more than $50 million.

The improvements would cover the stretch between the Northwest Highway and Route 120.

The suite of visual design products and their cost estimates were put together by McHenry-based HR Green and presented to elected leaders last week, and they directed city staff to aim for the highest grades of materials for beautifying the highway, although no final decisions on landscaping or streetscaping spending have been made.

The goal of making improvements to the look of the roadway in addition to its functionality is to emphasize up to six intersections that officials want to serve as gateways to the rest of the city, particularly the historic downtown city square.

Those intersections are Route 47′s links with Lake Avenue, McConnell Road, Country Club Road, East Calhoun Street, East Judd Street and Route 120.

The designs so far preferred by a council majority are what an HR Green leader called the “Cadillac” versions.

If they are implemented throughout the portion of Route 47 being improved by the state over the coming years, the cost to the city could range from $5 million to $6.4 million, according to city documents. That’s more than double the cost of instituting mid-grade options throughout the corridor, which would run the city between $2.1 million and $2.3 million.

Sticking with the basic landscaping and standard lighting that the Illinois Department of Transportation provides on highway improvement projects would cost $1.1 million, an estimate included in city documents shows.

Ultimately, however, when the plans for the roadwork are getting finalized, Woodstock officials will not have to take a one-size-fits-all approach. They likely are to mix and match design elements from across the top and mid-grade tiers at different spots throughout the corridor, meaning they could spend big on the design of one or more intersections or stretches of road and keep others more basic.

Officials are leaning toward most prominently featuring the intersection of Lake Avenue and Route 47, where one of the three roundabouts on the highway will be put, with East Calhoun Street also set to be considered as a main entryway into the city as it provides a direct route to the historic Woodstock Square.

“I think this is a once-in-a-50-year opportunity to do some improvements and we should look at the best package and know those costs, and if we need to start to eliminate we can,” council member Gordie Tebo said.

Council member Wendy Piersall pushed back against pursuing the high-grade arrangements for the whole corridor, suggesting instead that the city shell out the money for those at the Lake Avenue and Route 47 roundabout and the highway’s intersection with Calhoun, while staying within the mid-grade range for much of the rest of the improved roadway.

“I honestly would prefer to be a little more conservative,” Piersall said.

“One of my concerns, though, is there are still blighted businesses out there,” she said. “And no matter how much pretty lights and landscaping that we do, it’s not going to help if some of these businesses don’t step up and improve their properties.”

But a council majority wanted to work on the assumption that the high-grade would be the best to pursue for Route 47 and then peel back as necessary.

Mayor Brian Sager said the city’s tax increment finance district that includes much of the Route 47 corridor can help fund the building facelifts and renovations Piersall feels are needed along the highway.

Piersall especially was skeptical of adding cost to the project for stamped colored concrete getting used as crosswalks in intersections and on sidewalks outside the street as part of the high-grade package. The high-grade version for stamped concrete placement could cost between $185,000 and $246,000 per traditional intersection and between $365,000 and $468,000 per roundabout, according to city documents.

“I feel [stamped colored concrete] gives us the least bang for our buck for how much it costs in terms of the visual improvements it makes on our corridor,” Piersall said, expressing a preference for specialty lighting.

The city has budgeted $3 million out of its capital improvement plan to fund landscaping, streetscaping and lighting upgrades during the Route 47 improvement work, and would need to reallocate dollars out of its capital improvement plan by delaying or deferring other projects to close the $3.4 million difference.

Alternatively, the city could impose a property tax levy that would add about a $21 burden for a $200,000 home’s tax bill to afford the high-grade improvements, city staff calculated.

“We have spent a lot in the Square area, we will continue to do that. But now we’re looking to the outside and the rest of our community and helping to dress up that Route 47 corridor,” Sager said.