Western Avenue Upgrade to regenerate 61605

Denise Jackson

Denise Jackson walks along Western Avenue with Robert Johnson. The two are board members of Southside Community United for Change advocating for a renovation of the roadway that will trigger economic activity. (PHOTO BY CLARE HOWARD)

When urban planner Chuck Marohn talks about the best economic stimulus for urban communities, he advises focusing dollars on older sections of town, not the sprawling suburbs that cost more to maintain than they generate in tax revenue.

Marohn proves his point over and over again with the math. His calculations show that low-density suburban living requires more infrastructure and maintenance costs than are recouped in taxes.

The big culprit is the cost of installing and maintaining roads. Cities operate at a deficit when urban sprawl results in new roads, curbs, sidewalks and gutters, but that deficit is masked by continued growth –– almost like a Ponzi scheme. As soon as the growth ceases, the deficit looms.

People on Peoria’s Southside have watched street renovations along Knoxville Avenue and North Allen Road and looked at the neglect of Western Avenue, a major thoroughfare through one of the poorest zip codes in the region.

Southside Community United for Change was organized about six years ago and has lobbied for road work on Western Avenue for five years.

Half a dozen board members sent a letter to the Peoria City Council recently expressing frustration over the long wait.

City Councilwoman Denise Moore represents the city’s First District and said engineering work for the road improvement has been ongoing. The budget allocation for the work is $11.7 million. She said lifelong Peorians have told her that for as long as they can remember, there has never been any major work on Western Avenue. This project will be the first.

By a 9-2 vote on Aug. 11, the city council approved renovations of Western Avenue between Adams and Howett streets. Moore said $9.3 million is coming from the city, and the Illinois Department of Transportation will start getting bids for work slated to begin in the spring. She said the work of buying properties along Western started last year.

The work will include a new roadway, storm water management, permeable paver bike lanes, new sidewalks, street lighting and landscaping with native vegetation.

SCUC board member Denise Jackson grew up near Western Avenue and still lives in the home her parents purchased in 1959. She recalls a vibrant Western Avenue with shops and pedestrians. There was a dairy, pharmacy, restaurants, music store and mattress company. She and her father would regularly walk to the dairy to buy milk.

Today, she walks to Western Avenue from her home to water flower boxes.

“We’ve been waiting years for this road to be rebuilt,” she said. “Every year, we can drive around the city and see road work on Knoxville, Sheridan, Northmoor, University. But not streets in our neighborhood. Peoria has a history of neglecting our neighborhood. Our roads are horrendous.

“This road work is our chance to start restoring the neighborhoods. The 61605 zip code is one of the poorest and most neglected.”

Robert Johnson, also a board member of SCUC, echoes Jackson’s frustrations.

“When the infrastructure is improved, we will see businesses begin to look at this section of town again. It will spur people to invest in the Southside.”

Denise Jackson recently announced her candidacy for the Peoria City Council representing the First District.

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