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Plan To Convert Downtown Peoria Streets For Two-Way Traffic Draws Mixed Opinions

210723 SW Jefferson St.jpg
Tim Shelley
One-way traffic proceeds along Southwest Jefferson Street in downtown Peoria. A project to convert Adams and Jefferson streets back to two-way traffic after 60 years aims to improve business access and pedestrian safety in the corridor.

A plan to turn two major Peoria streets to two-way traffic aims to revitalize the area, but some people who work downtown are unsure how much of an effect it may have.

Adams and Jefferson streets have been one-way roads for 60 years, but the project to convert the stretch between Walnut Street and Interstate 74 back to both directions could begin next year if all the funding gets approved.

Rick Powers, Public Works Director for the City of Peoria, said the change would improve business access and pedestrian safety in the corridor.

“Peoria obviously would love to see a resurgence of small business and that vibrancy that that brings to the neighborhoods and again: the walkability, the bicycles, the safer intersections,” said Powers. “This is just all around, I believe, a very good step forward for Peoria.”

But some business owners wonder if the switch will actually have the desired effect.

George Manias has operated George’s Shoeshine and Hatters in a storefront at 101 NE Adams for 75 years – before the original switch to one-way traffic. He’s unsure whether two-way traffic will lead to more customers.

“Maybe, maybe not. I don't know. Right now, there's nobody downtown so I can't tell you for sure,” said Manias. “After 70 years, I can tell the difference between now and then: Then there was more people downtown, now there's nobody downtown. So it's kind of hard to tell.”

Gary Davis, the manager of A-Z Jewelry & Swap at 414 SW Adams, is more skeptical.

“I don't know if it will impact business or not, but why change something that's been working perfectly fine for 60-plus years? I mean, they do need to fix roads, but that (change) isn't going to cause businesses to do any better down here,” said Davis, attributing the area’s decline in business to high taxes and city mismanagement. “The reason there ain't businesses down here is because it's too expensive.”

New First District council member Denise Jackson said she believes slowing vehicle traffic and making the corridor more pedestrian friendly will be a benefit, and the conversion could lead to other needed road improvements in the area.

“We've got some bad infrastructure roads downtown, and when you have projects like this, it sometimes will allow for improvements and upgrades,” said Jackson. “Certainly, if it will help to promote new businesses or attracting new businesses, then I think it's a good thing.”

Manias said he hasn't yet seen foot traffic in the area rebound in the downtown area since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It's about the same, because there's nobody downtown yet,” he said. “Maybe sometime. Maybe in another year, next year might be better. They cut up the old St. Francis hospital and they're going to bring the (OSF HealthCare) headquarters over here. There's supposed to be about 1,000 more people here, so that might make a difference.”

Two people working at the Peoria County Courthouse see advantages to making Adams and Jefferson two-way again. On his way to lunch at Kenny's Westside Pub, intern Michael Glenn said the area economy could get a jump-start from more vehicles and pedestrians on the streets.

“They're three-lane roads, so if they were widened a little bit, I think that could be a good idea, especially to get some more traffic in and around the area,” said Glenn. “Especially, there's a lot of restaurants around the area that aren't open.”

Cali Morrissey, a court advocate for Center for Prevention of Abuse, said she would welcome changes to the downtown traffic pattern.

“It'd probably make it easier for people to get where they're needing to go. I know I get confused a little bit and I've lived here for 15 years,” said Morrissey. “Especially if you don't come around here very often, it can be annoying because there's probably quicker ways to get places if it was a two -way street.”

A portion of the project's cost would come from a $5 million earmark requested by 17th District U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Moline, as part of a $715 billion federal transportation bill.

Powers said the complete plan calls for new stop signals, crosswalk bump-outs, ADA compliant ramps, and a multi-directional center turn lane on both streets.

“This is getting pretty much a full blown facelift and a change in its configuration,” he said, adding the project could be completed by 2024. “We are still hopeful that we can find some additional funding; it's about a $10 million project right now for construction in its current state. If we can find about another $2 million in funding, and we're hopeful we can, then we'll also be doing an asphalt overlay.”

Powers said he hasn’t received any negative feedback from business owners or community members about the proposal.

“You're talking about new sidewalks and being pedestrian friendly and the ability to support small businesses, which is the backbone of our economy, as we've all learned very recently over the period with COVID,” he said. “When you get that added traffic at a slower rate of speed, I think everyone along those corridors would agree that this is good for them.”

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