Sterling council member: Fixing roads is a long and arduous process

Jim Wise

There’s a saying in our state: “There are two seasons in Illinois: winter and construction.”

As old man winter is on his way out the door, construction season is on its way in. So, let’s get ready for it so we’ll know what to expect once construction season begins in earnest in the next several weeks.

As roads go in our area, there is always a need for fixing.

The northern Illinois winters and summers aren’t nice to roads. The freezing and thawing roller coaster that happens during the winter months creates the dreaded pothole, and summer heat waves cause subsurface moisture to heat up to the point that a bubble forms under the pavement. The road buckles and becomes unusable, and cars driving over the wrecked road surface also will get wrecked.

Everyone has that one road they want to be repaired. Whether it’s the road in front of your home or the one you take to work, school or medical appointments, whatever reason that may be, we want that road to be drivable and safe.

I have that one road I’d like the city to fix someday. I won’t disclose what that road is here. My city manager has heard me say it by name multiple times. But I’ve also been polite about it.

Many others don’t hesitate to share their opinion with him about what they want done with the roads in our community. However, some aren’t as nice about it as others.

You may be asking how a road that needs to be fixed gets the nod. In an email exchange between the city of Sterling director of public works and myself, I was informed that in late winter, he assesses the condition of the roads in town and then compiles a list of roads that he believes are in the most need of repair before ranking the roads based on that information.

The public works department team is included in that process, too, as its input is valuable. The public works director and the city manager then survey the selected streets and decide which roads have made the cut.

Then, they take that information to the city engineer, who calculates the costs of repairs for the selected roads and returns that information to city hall for use in the development of the fiscal year budget. The total road repairs to be completed is based on the amount of funds for that use budgeted for the fiscal year.

So, now you’re asking, what about this street or that street?

When you have more than 100 miles of roads, almost as many in alleys and – don’t forget – sidewalks, a lot of work needs to be done to get all of that into the condition that every resident of our community wants it to be.

But there is only so much money to go around. Not every street, alley or sidewalk makes the cut. There is no other way to do it.

Decisions have to be made, and not everyone will be satisfied. This process is typical for many communities in the Sauk Valley region. Some are different, but it’s mostly the same process, no matter what town it is. Whether it’s Sterling, Rock Falls, Dixon, Morrison or Franklin Grove, they each have a process that works for them.

But what if there was more money? Could more roads be fixed? Money from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Illinois Department of Transportation is available, but taking that road (no pun intended) makes for a long journey.

Dixon was informed in November 2021 that it had been awarded a Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation for its pedestrian bridge and pedestrian path project.

In a phone conversation with the city’s administration, I was told that the city had applied for this grant multiple times before finally winning it.

And now, in 2024, it is preparing to conduct environmental work and engineering for this project. It is a project that will take years to finish, but this project, which was planned 25 years ago, is now underway thanks to the grant.

Everyone in Sterling knows how terrible Second Street is, and the city is trying to do something about it. The city had applied multiple times for an Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program grant through IDOT to help fund the cost of rebuilding this street, and the grant was awarded in 2021.

During the past three years, Springfield has approved the engineering for this project and, having oversight of the project because of the ITEP grant, it is now preparing to release the bid for vendors to bid on the project.

We are now waiting to see if the job will be awarded to a vendor. If it is, there still will be a monthslong wait before it begins.

Fixing roads is a long and arduous process, especially if a state or federal agency is involved. But that is the process that needs to be followed, and we have no say in trying to speed things up.

Funding needs to be appropriated; streets that need to be fixed need to be chosen; engineering needs to be done; the bidding process needs to be completed; the vendor needs to mobilize equipment, stage materials and coordinate utility company work that needs to be completed.

All that and the weather play a significant part in an effort to fix our roads.

Every day, someone is working on getting our streets fixed. Our roads will be fixed whether it is city hall, public works, the engineers or the vendors themselves. Maybe not when we want them to be, but they will be eventually.

So, remember that we are working on it, and the next pothole you hit, sigh and say to yourself, “Someday, that pothole will be filled, and that someday will be tomorrow.”

  • Jim Wise serves on the Sterling City Council.
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