On Thursday night (7/15), the City of Peoria hosted an open house for the Orange Prairie Road Extension project. They distributed a handout which you can see by clicking here (PDF).
The first question to ask is: Why are we building a new road in the middle of a cornfield on the northwest end of town? The handout states that the “primary purpose of this project is to facilitate … development along the Orange Prairie Road corridor….” In other words, they want to incentivize the conversion of more farmland to primarily residential subdivisions, plus a little commercial development.
The next question is: How can Peoria afford this given our current budget woes? The answer is that it’s being funded by the State of Illinois to the tune of $17.5 million. Once the road is complete, the plan is to move the Route 91 designation from its current alignment to the new road. The old Route 91 would become the responsibility of the City. Thus, even though the state is picking up the capital outlay of building a new road, the City picks up the ongoing maintenance expense of the old road. We’re not getting a new road for free.
The conventional wisdom is that Peoria will come out ahead because the land will be developed, which will lead to property and sales tax increases. But the City hasn’t done a cost-benefit analysis to substantiate that belief. The City’s future use plan calls for this area to be primarily residential. Modern residential development means low-density development. That is, houses are pretty far away from each other, connected by meandering streets that all terminate in cul-de-sacs. This increases the costs of maintaining the streets while not raising enough in property taxes to cover the costs of increased services. And land that is developed by non-profit organizations will mean no additional property taxes to the City.
This extension has been touted as sustainable in at least one local magazine. An article in InterBusiness Issues said:
When complete and operational, [the Orange Prairie Roadway extension project] will encourage and support further development in the Greater Grand Prairie area, but in a carefully and thoughtfully planned manner. And, it may serve as a model for how such suburban and exurban developments can be greener and more sustainable. Using the State of Illinois’s new I-LAST (Livable and Sustainable Transportation) rating system, Orange Prairie designers are currently considering such items as protected bicycle and pedestrian pathways along the route, sustainable stormwater detention and wetland creation, introduction of street trees and landscape buffer zones, and energy-efficient street lighting. In addition, efforts will be made to maximize the use of local and recycled materials while minimizing the earthmoving operations in the entire project area.
It will provide a bike lane and sidewalk, which is good. Unfortunately, once you walk or ride your bike to War Memorial, you have no place else to go, since that route is decidedly inhospitable to anything but motor vehicles. Given the low density of development, the area will be unable to sustain public transportation. But these and any other critical issues get little or no discussion in City Council meetings, especially when the State is waving $17.5 million under their noses. We’ll just build it and pay the consequences later.