Fleming Road residents prevail

County Board OKs $692K project that doesn’t widen scenic road

WOODSTOCK – Residents along Fleming Road officially won their almost 3-year struggle to save their scenic drive from destruction by a much-needed rebuild.

The McHenry County Board on Tuesday evening voted, 22-0, to approve a plan to rebuild the crumbling road starting late spring in its current footprint, saving its rolling hills, centuries-old oaks and daffodil beds from the bulldozer.

The plan, hashed out last year, uses a technique called cold in-place recycling, which grinds up the old road and part of the bed and uses the ground-up material to lay down the new one.

Members of the Fleming Road Alliance, which banded together to stop the county’s original plans for a much wider road, hailed the vote.

“Everyone is winning, whether it’s the residents concerned about preserving the beauty of the road and its natural features while repairing it, and the motorists win because they’ve been concerned about the safety of it. And the taxpayers win,” alliance member Mary Moltmann said.

The County Board awarded the contract to Crystal Lake-based Curran Contracting Co. for $692,506, and added a 20 percent cushion to $830,000 in the event of unanticipated problems. Even then, the cost is far lower than the $5 million price tag, not counting right-of-way acquisition, that the McHenry County Division of Transportation first envisioned.

Officials announced in 2010 their intentions to rebuild the decaying, pothole-filled 2 1/2-mile rural road connecting Route 120 and Country Club Road. Fleming Road was first paved in 1966 and last repaved a decade ago, but the road bed is too far gone to simply pave it again.

However, county plans called for widening the lanes to 12 feet, widening the shoulders to 4 feet, and adding 3-foot ditches and 14-foot clear zones. In short, the road’s footprint would double, and in the eyes of residents, take much of the scenery with it. About a mile and a half of the road also runs through the sensitive Boone Creek Fen groundwater recharge area.

Residents insisted that the road be built in its current footprint, and participated in the advisory group that MCDOT formed to gauge the project’s scope. But residents quickly became frustrated that engineers kept coming back with the same plan, save for minor tweaks.

Residents waged a public awareness campaign with roadside signs and yellow ribbons tied around threatened trees, and succeeded in getting the Historic Preservation Commission to designate the road as a McHenry County Scenic Drive.

Other actions carried legal weight. About two dozen landowners filed conservation easements held in conjunction with the Village of Bull Valley and The Land Conservancy of McHenry County, which also opposed the project’s proposed scope. The county would have had to negotiate with each owner individually for right-of-way, which would have required consent from all three easement holders to proceed.

Several County Board members in January 2012 told MCDOT in no uncertain terms to heed residents’ wishes and keep the road in its current footprint. Several months later, the Illinois Department of Transportation formally set down the rules for using cold in-place recycling, allowing the county to use the technique and pursue bids.

Plans call for Fleming Road to be closed one lane at a time, and a public meeting is scheduled for late May to coordinate the closure and its impact on residents, motorists and emergency vehicles.

Bull Valley Trustee and alliance member Emily Berendt said the group will keep its eye on construction as it proceeds.

“We’re very happy that the project is moving forward as agreed. That doesn’t mean we’re going to reduce our vigilance,” Berendt said.

What it means

The McHenry County Board voted Tuesday evening, 22-0, to award Curran Contracting Co. a $692,506 bid to rebuild Fleming Road in its current footprint. The vote is a victory for residents who have fought for almost 3 years against original plans that they said would have destroyed the rural scenic drive.