WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Getting Highway 34 above the Flood Plain

Nov 22, 2015

The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) has developed half-a-dozen potential routes for an upgraded U.S. Highway 34 between the Mississippi River and Biggsville.  The plan is to convert the two-lane road into a four-lane expressway with a grass median.

A preferred route for the four-lane highway was selected in 2003.  But the levees near Gulfport were breached during the Flood of 2008, and a couple years later they were de-accredited by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  The decertification created a much larger floodplain.

“We’re studying this because of the levee decertification, which happened several years ago,” said Tom Lacy, Studies and Plans Engineer for IDOT.

“One of the (new) alignments is the original, and we’re raising that.  And the other alternates are different alignments that either stay in the floodplain or get out of the floodplain as soon as possible.

This map was handed out during the open house in Biggsville
Credit Rich Egger

He said sections of the road that are in the floodplain must be raised around 15 feet to withstand a 500 year flood.  Doing that creates a bigger footprint and adds to the cost.

IDOT held a public forum at West Central High School in Biggsville to gather input on the options.  It will now review that input and do further studies.  Lacy said the agency will then come back to the public with fewer options or a preferred route.

After that several other steps must be completed before construction can begin, and Lacy said there is still no money for land acquisition or construction.

“A project of this size is usually 80% federal funding, 80% to 90% federal funding. So it would rely on federal funds to complete the construction phase,” Lacy said.

There also is no money for land acquisition and construction of the stretch from Biggsville to Monmouth, which will also be upgraded to a four-lane expressway with grass medians, but studies for that portion are completed and all that remains is for the money to come through.

The entire Monmouth to Mississippi River stretch of Highway 34 is in the district of Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (D-IL).  But Congressman Darin LaHood (R-IL) said the highway is also important to his neighboring district.

“What I try to look at with all these highway projects is: when we allocate taxpayer money, is it going to help the private sector or help growth in this area?” said LaHood.

“Clearly Route 34 does that. It meets that requirement and so it’ll be one that I’ll be a strong advocate for.”

Jonathan Ahl contributed to this story.