A two-year rehabilitation of Western Avenue has taken a step forward with construction set to begin as soon as next spring.
The Peoria City Council approved five agenda items Tuesday night that will open the bidding process this fall for the estimated $8.2 million project to improve the stretch of the road from Adams Street to Howett Street.
First District council member Denise Moore said the road has needed upgrades for at least 35 years and residents in the area have waited long enough.
“I will tell you that the African-American community that lives in the south side of Peoria has no appetite for once again to have a project come before us and be delayed,” said Moore.
Public Works Director Rick Powers said Tuesday’s actions will allow the city to open the bidding this fall and potentially complete the project in 2022. The full cost of the project would be spread over the next two years, starting with about $450,000 worth of 2020 state motor fuel tax funds.
“What we’re trying to do is take advantage of a bidding opportunity at the end of the year in order to start the project in the first quarter of 2021,” said City Manager Patrick Urich.
The vote on all five items was 9-2, with council members Beth Jensen and Zach Oyler opposing the action. Both pointed to the city’s financial crunch from the COVID-19 pandemic for their reasoning.
“I think there’s no doubt that this project needs to be done, but I think that we are not in a position right now to make a decision to do it,” said Oyler. “For almost six months now we have been unable to balance this year’s budget. The last couple of meetings, the only thing that we’ve talked about is things we’re going to add back into the budget, not how we’re going to fix the budget that's in front of us.”
“Although I supported this project before from the outset, I do have some concerns given the deficits that we’re facing right now that are unexpected,” said Jensen.
Council member Sid Ruckriegel said he also felt uneasy about the current budget situation, but believes the Western Avenue project is too important to delay.
“I know it’s hard to spend dollars when we're still in this process,” he said. “But I think also this is a decision that has waited a long time.”
At-Large council member Rita Ali echoed Moore in stressing the residents who live near Western should not be forced to wait any longer.
“I think it’s important that we invest in this area of the city where we have disinvested for so long,” added At-Large council member Rita Ali. “I think that waiting until 2022, or 2023 is really turning our backs on the citizens there who we've committed to move forward with this project.”
At-Large council member John Kelly said he supported spending 5% of the total project cost now to get the project completed sooner rather than later, adding it “sounds like a good use of money that we don’t have.”
The council chose to defer action on five items: receiving and filing a budget restructuring plan for 2020-21; establishing a short-term rental ordinance; offering a voluntary separation incentive for fire department employees; amending the city code related to massage service businesses; and approving a $40,000 legal settlement with Hope Fair Housing Center.
Other items passed include: receiving and filing a report on options for distributing Community Development Block Grant COVID-19 household and small business assistance; receiving and filing an unaudited financial report for the month ending June 30; continuing the local state of emergency declaration; and amending the city code regarding employee ethics.
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