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Kahl views infrastructure needs as East Peoria’s top priority

East Peoria Mayor John Kahl sits in front of a microphone in the WCBU master studio.
Joe Deacon
East Peoria Mayor John Kahl

In looking ahead to the new year, East Peoria Mayor John Kahl believes infrastructure improvements remain at the forefront of the city’s priorities.

“A lot of the improvements that we’ve made over the last 4½ years, maybe people don’t see them and they don't think we're doing anything. But there's a lot of aging infrastructure, and that's at the top of our list,” Kahl said during his latest quarterly interview with WCBU.

“One of the big projects that we’ve already started the engineering on, is actually milling and overlaying Springfield Road, and that would be replacement of curbs, too. That's a big project; that price tag, you’re looking at close to $6 million, and that goes from Main Street out to corporate limits.”

Kahl noted that the Springfield Road project involves more than just the road itself.

“We have to have the engineering come back, but there’s a lot of moving parts with stuff like that. You have utilities that are going to have to be moved,” he said. “You don’t want to tear a road up and not replace the aging infrastructure underneath it. So we have water and sewer that we have engineering being conducted now on replacing that or lining it, and then hopefully redoing that roadway.”

Last month, the city council unanimously voted to use $1.1 million in anticipated state motor fuel tax revenue toward ongoing road repairs.

“We’re given projections from the state what we can anticipate in the next year, so this time of year, we always figure out what those projections are going to be,” Kahl said. “Then we start allocating those funds so we can get out the bid early, which tends to drive the cost down because people are eager to bid on those projects.”

But Kahl noted that won’t be the entire amount spent on road work in 2024.

“We’ll start budget discussions in January to get the budget prepared for the May 1 fiscal year,” he said. “During the course of the budget (talks), we’ll have a capital improvement plan and you’ll see a lot of street projects come forward at that time as well. So that $1.1 million is just motor fuel tax funds.”

Blutowne construction

Kahl said the ongoing construction on the 501 Blutowne project adjacent to city hall poses no environmental or health risks to citizens.

Kahl said the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency recently visited the construction site after being notified about a foul smell coming from the location.

“There was an odor, and it’s often depending on the weather conditions and which way the winds are blowing, and if it’s blowing 25 miles an hour, five miles an hour,” Kahl said. “But as you’ve seen the progression there, that odor has diminished.”

Kahl said rumors of a potential hazard at site of the $55 million mixed-use development were unfounded, noting there’s an environmental consultant at the site daily.

“They are right outside my window, that’s how far it’s progressed, and I’ve watch this gentleman multiple times a day,” he said. “They don’t just test the air, they actually take soil samples and it’s required that they log them. So the IEPA, when they came on the visit and they checked everything, including the logs, there is no health hazard. Absolutely everything that they’re doing is what the IEPA required.”

Bob Michel Bridge

With the Bob Michel Bridge set to reopen before the end of the year, Kahl said he anticipates an economic boost for businesses along the East Peoria riverfront and in the Levee District.

“From our standpoint, we’re a community that recognizes and appreciates the regional benefits at the Bob Michel Bridge has brought to Greater Peoria area,” Kahl said. “People don’t have to go too far into East Peoria to realize the economic impact with some of the things that we’ve done on the East Peoria side of the river.”

The mayor highlighted the reconstructed bridge’s smoother ride for vehicle traffic, its multi-use pedestrian and bicycle path with a concrete barrier, and improved safety and accessibility as the primary advantages – while noting that the half-mile span was due for a makeover.

“A lot of people don’t realize that’s a 30 year old bridge. People are like, ‘why are we wasting the money?’ – it’s not a waste,” Kahl said. “I’m a huge advocate in infrastructure reinvestment: you have to stay on top of things. I don’t think people realize, the longer you put off maintenance and improvements, the more costly they’re going to be down the road.”

Veterans’ village project

Kahl said he’s optimistic about a development opportunity at the location of the vacant former nursing home on Springfield Road.

Kahl said Greater Peoria Area Habitat for Humanity executive director Lea Anne Schmidgall approached the city with the idea of establishing a veterans’ village at the site of the shuttered East Peoria Gardens Health Center that closed in 2008.

“What Habitat did is, come to the city and say, ‘Hey, if we can secure that building, here’s our vision for that space,’” Kahl said. “It would be completely demolished and they’re looking to make like a veterans’ community there. That’s what they’re hoping to do.”

Kahl said Habitat was awarded a $200,000 grant from Tazewell County to cover projected demolition costs. He said he’s eager to see something done at the location.

“That that property has been a struggle. It is owned by folks that are not from this area. It is dilapidated. It’s a public health risk and nuisance, if you ask me, and it has been since that nursing home closed,” Kahl said. I “There’s a lot of challenges with that building, and that’s why it sits vacant. We’ve done our part to try to keep the vagrants out. I mean, there’s asbestos issues so there’s a lot of remediation that would go along with the demolition.”

Kahl said there’s no timetable yet for the veterans’ village project to move forward, but added that the city will help Habitat navigate the process once the organization is ready.

“We have two of the five veteran-builds in East Peoria that Habitat has done, and the work they do is just phenomenal,” he said. “Anything we can do to support the veterans, by all means, as a veteran I guarantee we’ll back them.”

Holiday season

Kahl acknowledged December is always a pretty busy month in East Peoria.

“Obviously, we have Festival of Lights, and a lot of people kind of get tired of us talking about it but that’s a big thing for East Peoria,” Kahl said. “We had the 39th annual Festival of Lights parade; weather was the best it’s been in 39 years and it was a huge crowd. It went with out of hitch, and now we have Winter Wonderland open. So you’re going to see a lot of visitors roll into East Peoria; we already have.”

Kahl stresses that East Peoria’s holiday attractions bring visitors that benefit the entire area.

“What we’ve tried to do over there isn’t just to have people show up in East Peoria and go through the Winter Wonderland,” he said. “There’s a lot of great things to do around here: the Peoria Riverfront Museum, the Cat (Caterpillar) Visitor Center. We try to loop in everything in hopes that these people don’t just come in town for our little event, that they take advantage of all the wonderful things that we have in this region.”

Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.