Barry McNamara  |  Published December 19, 2023

A Safer, Scenic Square

Coming in 2024: New look for downtown Monmouth, thanks to $3 million project.

SHANE LARSON: The senior vice president of Hutchison Engineering Inc. was in Monmouth Monday to speak about the Public Squa... SHANE LARSON: The senior vice president of Hutchison Engineering Inc. was in Monmouth Monday to speak about the Public Square project. MONMOUTH, Ill. – Slower traffic around a more scenic Public Square and additional downtown parking spaces are among the highlights of a multi-million-dollar project set to get underway in 2024 in Monmouth.

One of the engineers helping to complete the “generational” project for the City of Monmouth presented a detailed look at the plans Monday afternoon.

Shane Larson, senior vice president at Hutchison Engineering Inc. in Jacksonville, Illinois, spoke to the Monmouth Rotary Club about the city’s “Historic Downtown Square Revitalization.”

“This is a generational project that will change the face of Monmouth for decades to come,” said Monmouth City Manager Lew Steinbrecher, who introduced Larson to the Rotarians at their regular meeting at the Monmouth Country Club.

Steinbrecher said the project is “five years in the making,” explaining that Monmouth had twice attempted to secure a grant for the project through a Transportation Enhancement Program offered through the Illinois Department of Transportation. Steinbrecher and his staff then secured a $3 million grant through IDOT’s Rebuild Illinois Capital Plan.

The benefits

The project will offer three main benefits: slowing down traffic around the Public Square where the city’s two major streets, Broadway and Main, intersect; providing more parking spaces in the vicinity; and beautifying the area through green spaces and new benches and lighting.

“It will have a very cohesive look to it,” said Larson of the design elements.

LEW STEINBRECHER: Monmouth's city manager said, This is a generational project that will change the face of ... LEW STEINBRECHER: Monmouth's city manager said, “This is a generational project that will change the face of Monmouth for decades to come." The program will have a something new, something old effect, providing an old-timey feel to the downtown while also brightening up the area.

Speaking of the old days, the current traffic flow around the Public Square is based on the former presence of two highways that intersected there. But it’s been decades since U.S. Routes 34 and 67 were shifted to bypass the downtown.

“We’re going to slow everybody down,” said Larson of a new traffic flow that will be reduced to one lane, not only around the Public Square, but in the block leading to the town’s center in all directions.

Larson and his company came to that conclusion while working together with a stakeholder group that included Monmouth businesspeople.

“Nobody wants Shane Larson coming in and telling them how their downtown is going to be,” he said. “The stakeholder group is made up of people we thought could help guide us through the project.”

Larson said the combination of safety plus added parking is unusual in projects such as these.

“There are currently 110 parking spots in that area, and this project will increase that figure to 129,” he said. “All the street-scaping we’re doing, plus the added 19 parking spots is pretty rare. You can usually only address one of those concerns, but we’re going to be able to do both.”

The timeline

Monmouth residents won’t have to wait long to see the changes. The design engineering is scheduled to be completed by February, followed by bidding for the project in March and execution of the contract in April. If all goes according to plan, construction would begin in May, with “substantial completion” by December. Depending on the weather at that time of year, Larson said some of the landscaping might not be completed until the spring of 2025.

Some of that landscaping will occur in the actual center of the Public Square, an area that rarely receives pedestrian traffic due to the “racetrack” environment of the two lanes that encircle it.

“The thought is, ‘If we can make it safe to go out there, why not make it more of a park setting?’” said Larson.

“All the street-scaping we’re doing, plus the added 19 parking spots is pretty rare. You can usually only address one of those concerns, but we’re going to be able to do both.” – Shane Larson

The revitalization project will not only make things more pleasing to the eye, but it’s being done in conjunction with a water main project that will fix some issues below the surface.

“We’ll be upgrading the infrastructure that no one really thinks about,” said Monmouth Mayor Rod Davies, noting that some parts of that infrastructure are a century old, including such dated structures as coal shoots.

Hand-in-hand with the project that Larson detailed are discussions about making a block or two of South First Street a one-way street, heading south. Diagonal parking lines would be painted along each side of the street, and major gains in parking spaces would be realized if an open lot on the west side of the block was converted to a parking lot and if the one-way traffic continued for a second block, ending at the post office.

Watch …

Monmouth City Manager Lew Steinbrecher discusses the downtown revitalization on WQAD-8. 

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