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Long-debated widening of Willow Road in north suburbs on the horizon

A decades-old debate over widening a two-lane stretch of Willow Road in the north suburbs may be nearing an end.

The Northfield Village Board this week approved a pact with the Illinois Department of Transportation that addresses some safety and aesthetic concerns and provides the village some legal recourse if the state doesn’t fulfill its end of the bargain.

The state construction project, which could begin next year, is aimed at easing a bottleneck some have termed the “Northfield Strangler.”

The work would create a continuous four-lane road, with some left- and right-turn lanes, between the Edens Expressway and Waukegan Road.

For years, the widening of Willow through a mostly residential section of Northfield has been the source of controversy, pitting village against village, neighbor against neighbor and the village of Northfield against the state.

Northfield officials said the IDOT pact incorporates many of the suggestions made by the 25-member Community Advisory Group and citizens during a two-year study process. The group included representatives from Northfield, Glenview, Northbrook and Winnetka among others.

The state is currently designing the road widening project in preparation for soliciting bids from contractors early next year. IDOT wanted a signed agreement from Northfield by July 1, so the terms would be included in the final design plans.

Under the agreement, each lane would be 10-feet wide, or 10.5-feet where the road bends, which is narrower than the 11- to 12-foot lanes typical of a regional arterial road. The speed limit would be lowered from 35 mph to 30.

A landscaped median varying from 10- to 18-feet wide would run for most of the length of the project, with sidewalks along both sides of the road.

Red-light cameras at the intersections with Waukegan and Wagner roads would be removed prior to the start of the construction, as the state requires a one-year evaluation after a construction project to determine if the cameras are still warranted.

The state will pick up an estimated $857,000 tab to provide plantings at 12 median locations and sidewalk intersections, including specialty plantings at the “gateway” locations on the east and west ends of the corridor.

All told, the project is estimated to cost $34.3 million to $34.6 million, depending on whether plain or more decorative traffic signal poles and lighting are used.

The state’s share would be about $33.7 million with the village’s costs ranging from $600,000 to $1.2 million. But the village has applied for a transportation grant that could offset $624,000 of the local costs.

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