Every year, Kiley Whitty and her neighbor in a Winfield subdivision hire consultants to maintain a stormwater detention area in their backyards.
It's not routine landscaping but an "ecological project" to rid the area of nonnative species and debris, Whitty says. Mature trees and established native plants help provide screening from Roosevelt Road, repel mosquitoes and filter the stormwater that flows from the north part of their neighborhood into the detention basin to the south of Garfield Court.
But Whitty and her neighbors are worried about far more than the loss of a naturalized buffer should the Illinois Department of Transportation move forward with a proposed expansion of Roosevelt Road. IDOT's preliminary plans call for expanding the detention area to improve drainage and to apparently allow runoff from Roosevelt Road to funnel into the basin.
"We're very concerned that if the Roosevelt Road water starts coming in here, it's not going to be able to handle that capacity," Whitty said. "We're going to be the ones who are kind of paying for that with our sump pumps working on overpower, our yards potentially flooding more frequently and having some bad-quality water with the runoff and vehicle emissions and rock and salt and all of those things that we have very little of at this point."
Though the project could be years from breaking ground, Whitty's neighborhood and St. Francis High School leaders have emerged as vocal critics of IDOT's plans, which call for reconstructing Roosevelt with two lanes in each direction -- separated by a new median -- on a stretch from east of Winfield Road to west of County Farm Road. That roadwork would connect two intersection projects at Winfield and County Farm.
In a five-page letter to IDOT, Whitty, an attorney who lives at the end of a cul-de-sac with her husband and two children, outlined five areas of concern on behalf of the neighborhood, a close-knit community with young families and about two dozen elementary-age children. She also plans to speak when a Winfield committee discusses the project Jan. 23.
"'We don't want to tell you, you can't widen Roosevelt Road,'" Whitty said. "We understand there's safety benefits to doing that and increasing the traffic flow, but can we do that with as little disruption as possible to the private homeowners who have been here for a very long time?"
In an email Monday, IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell confirmed the department's receipt of the letter, but he did not comment.
"As with all inquiries received during the course of the planning process, we will review and respond accordingly," he wrote.
Historic flooding issues in the neighborhood east of Winfield Road were largely resolved with the construction of the Garfield Court subdivision about seven years ago and the restoration of the detention basin, Whitty said.
The detention area is privately owned by Whitty and her neighbor Rich Willix. But there was "substantial confusion" at an IDOT open house in November about its ownership until she produced a plat of survey, Whitty said.
"We're very concerned that IDOT ... will kind of do the bare minimum with respect to the detention area, which takes away all of the natural beauty of it, which is part of why the two of us paid lot premiums and purchased these lots," Whitty said.
She and Willix also question the need for a proposed 8-foot-wide bike path that would run on the north side of Roosevelt. But if it is built, they urge IDOT to install a privacy fence along the path between their properties and Roosevelt.
"The addition of a public pathway through our backyards which will, essentially, make a direct path between Cooper's Corner, a bar and restaurant, and the Marathon gas station, while eliminating the privacy and separation offered by the tree line poses a significant concern regarding the accessibility of unwelcomed guests on our property and increased access to our children," Whitty wrote.
East of the Marathon gas station is a long-vacant property that Whitty and Willix hope IDOT would consider acquiring as an alternative to using their detention area for drainage. That three-parcel lot at Roosevelt and Cleveland Street already retains moisture, presenting challenges for development.
"Water comes up to my fence line," Willix said. "Now it's definitely going to come past that into my usable yard, which is unacceptable. ... I don't want anybody else's water to come into my property other than what it was initially made for and what we signed off."