By BRIAN FLINCHPAUGH with DAN FOX
The O’Fallon City Council has rejected a resolution sought by the St. Charles County Council to oppose traffic lane reduction along North Main Street; however, this action may be a moot point for the time being.
The county council had previously promised to withhold $2.5 million in funds for two O’Fallon roadway projects unless the O’Fallon council passed a resolution stating it does not support a “road diet” or any other changes to the lane configuration of Main Street or Route K that would reduce the vehicular traffic capacity of those roadways.
The O’Fallon council had until Nov. 13 to pass this resolution; however, at its Nov. 12 meeting, the council voted against its passage. The vote came down to a 5-5 split, with O’Fallon Mayor Bill Hennessy breaking the tie by voting against the resolution.
“I don’t like being held hostage,” Hennessy said. “And that’s exactly what they are doing. The folks in the county are holding not only the city of O’Fallon hostage, but they can hold any other city hostage if they don’t like what they are doing.”
Several O’Fallon councilmembers said they were upset with the county threatening to withhold transportation funding. Several called the resolution “blackmail.” Others said they hoped the funding issue could still be discussed with the county.
The idea of reducing lanes along a half-mile section of North Main was one of several proposed options that came out of a consultant’s study examining ways to make the area more pedestrian friendly. No definitive decision had been made on cutting lanes on North Main, but the concept has drawn vehement opposition from local businesses.
County Executive Steve Ehlmann said Nov. 13 that the projects may be delayed regardless because of several questions that have emerged. The projects are the proposed extension of Sonderen Street from Eggering Drive to North Main and the reconstruction of Bramblett Road, which are largely parallel to Main Street.
Ehlmann and Councilman Joe Cronin (District 1) said officials are hoping that expensive and extensive rights-of-way will be donated for the projects.
The Sonderen Road extension is particularly significant because it is designed to loop north of I-70 east of North Main and take traffic off an already congested section of Main Street. Cronin also said some adjustments in the proposed route also may have to be made.
Meanwhile, Tom Drabelle, the city’s public relations director, said Nov. 13 that the city has not lost a specific developer and the project wasn’t designed with a specific developer in mind. Several potential developers continue to look at the project, he said.
Cronin, who is from St. Paul north of O’Fallon, has noted that Route K south through O’Fallon is a major commuting and travel route for residents north of the city. Closing down lanes on North Main would be “lunacy,” he said previously.
Cronin and Ehlmann aren’t budging on their position that there is nothing unusual about placing conditions on the use of transportation sales tax funding by municipalities. Ehlmann said the county placed conditions on the use of funding for improvements underway along Fifth Street in St. Charles and a road project near the General Motors Corp. plant in Wentzville.
Ehlmann said the city could pay for the projects themselves or adopt the resolution agreeing to abide by its requirements until Sonderen and Bramblett are built. Once those projects are built in three or four years, the city could do what it wants to North Main, he said.
Ehlmann said more people are affected by road projects than simply city residents, and the county must represent their interests. The trust that county voters have in the sales tax, which has to be renewed periodically, could erode if mistakes are made in spending the money.
“The county is exercising its proper stewardship of this money,” Ehlmann said.