Yes, I am the one driving my car 25-40 mph on Route 14 between Bunker Hill Road and Hughes Road from Harvard to Woodstock and back again most days of the week. If you have not yet experienced this stretch of road this winter, well, I suggest you plan to avoid it for the foreseeable future.
The road became particularly rough shortly after the first major cold spell broke in early January. Road heave, also called frost heave, occurs when moisture underneath pavement freezes and expands, forcing the asphalt up. It gets worse as the ice melts and then refreezes – again and again. Eventually the pavement starts to break apart. The more traffic, the faster the road breaks up.
The section between Deep Cut and Dunham Roads is particularly awful. Like driving over a series of unmarked speed bumps for half a mile. If you ever accidentally hit an actual speed bump at full speed, you probably thought: “Ouch, I hope I never do that again!” (At least that’s what I thought, only “ouch” was replaced with a different 4-letter word.) Now, imagine doing that every 20-30 feet for half a mile at 55 miles per hour.
This morning, two cars decided to pass me in this stretch of Route 14. I just shook my head as I watched them bounce down the road ahead of me. Apparently they didn’t care about the neck and back injuries they are likely to sustain (maybe hoping for a Worker’s Comp claim), nor did they mind the extra wear and tear on their cars’ suspensions (must have been leased vehicles).
The driver of a semi-truck that was right behind me – much too close for comfort or safety – was so annoyed by my turtle-esque pace that he passed me in a no-passing zone shortly after Dunham Road. (Note, I could still see him about one-quarter mile ahead of me when I reached Dean Street a few miles later.)
I’m telling this story because it occurred to me that maybe some people drive full speed down bumpy roads because they don’t understand the effects such behavior has on their bodies or cars? Specifically, the jarring movement of driving quickly across a bumpy road results in:
$1- Neck and back injuries. The result is higher medical costs, more time off work due to pain and injury and an increased likelihood of chronic neck and back problems as one ages.
$1- More accidents. Drivers are more likely to lose control of a vehicle when driving at high speed on a rough surface.
$1- Increased vehicle maintenance costs. In fact, driving on rough roads adds an average of $400 each year to the cost of maintaining a car as the suspension, tires, and many other parts wear down more quickly. The increased costs are higher in areas that are more heavily developed.
$1- Increased fuel costs. Plain and simple, a car uses more fuel when driving on bumpy roads – and driving fast on a rough road uses more fuel than driving slowly on the same road.
It also crossed my mind that some folks may not understand the extra costs society bears as the roads breakdown more quickly and require more maintenance. The costs of maintaining and repairing public roads are paid by tax-payers, whether the roads are maintained by the township, Village, county, state, or federal government.
Personally, I would rather see my taxes spent on something other than the constant repair of roads that are prematurely disintegrating because so many people refuse to slow down a little when driving on a bumpy road.
From an environmental perspective, I like highway rotaries (also called roundabouts). They allow traffic to keep moving, which cuts down on cars having to stop and start at a light or stop sign. That saves gas and results in less air pollution.
An additional environmental benefit is that less pavement is typically installed at a rotary when compared to a four-way-stop intersection. Part of the reason for that is what are called “stacking lanes.” These are areas where the roadway is wider approaching an intersection to allow for right and left turning traffic to “stack” up while waiting for a light to change to green. The extra roadway width reduces the time it takes for traffic to move through an intersection, as the folks going straight, the ones turning right and the left-turners are already separated when the light changes color.
When a rotary is installed, there is less need for “stacking” cars because the traffic moves continuously through the intersection, and whether a car is going straight, turning right or turning left, it will enter the rotary and follow it to the right until exiting onto the desired road. Less need for “stacking” cars translates into less need for pavement, and less pavement is a positive for the environment.
But, sometimes a rotary isn’t the best solution.
One of those cases is the proposed rotary at Harmony Road and Route 20 southeast of Marengo. The state’s plan to install a rotary at that intersection will require tearing down the historic Harmony School along with a grove of oak trees that were growing there before the school was built in 1931. Until its owner, Jack Feldkamp, was murdered in 2011, the school was home to his business, Harmony Real Estate.
The historic building sits empty, and if the rotary project goes forward, the school will be gone – forever. And a bit of our Heritage – a part of what makes McHenry County unique in the region – will be gone too. Roads can be moved or redesigned to avoid structures or trees, but trees and buildings are generally immovable (except perhaps at great cost).
Ancient oaks and historic buildings connect the current generation to a time before we were here. A time when schools were dotted across the landscape so that every child in the county could walk to and from school each day. A time when a grove of oak trees growing near a school was valued because of the shade it provided on a hot day (before air conditioning).
I can’t help but wonder if there is still a lesson left in that old schoolhouse? And if today’s “students” will slow down long enough to listen to it?
(Thanks to Kurt Begalka at the McHenry County Historic Society for sharing the photos of the school and oaks. www.mchsonline.org)
I've been thinking a lot about Fleming Road (runs from Route 120 to Country Club, about 2 miles). If you haven't driven it, it is worth the drive. Truly one of the most scenic roads in the county. Hilly, wooded, gentle curves, the whole bit.
A friend calls it "tummy tickle" road because of the hills - a name that started when his kids were little and they liked the roller-coaster effect of driving along Fleming!
BUT, it is technically a county highway that is considered by them to be the route from Route 120 to Route 14 by way of Country Club Road and Ridgefield Road.
I'm thinking about getting some turtle crossing signs to put up along Dean Street in Woodstock, asking people to slow down and yield to these little fellas!
Last week we saw a painted turtle that had been run over right in the middle of the road. And yesterday, I saw a very large snapping turtle that had just made it (safely) across the road.
There are wetlands in the back of properties on the east side of Dean Street, and in the front of properties on the west side of the road.
It may be safe to say that "scenic" is in the eye of the beholder. One person's scenic drive may be tedious to another who just wants to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible, and is annoyed by the hills, slower speed limits, curves and trees close to the road.
I love driving through the county's gently rolling farm fields, but know people who think this area is too flat and the farm fields are b o r i n g.
Whether one likes scenic vistas of farmfields, or curvy, hilly routes that cross through examples of the county's glacial remants (moraines, kettles, kames and outwash plains), there are many scenic driving experiences to be had in McHenry County.
For example, I think most any road through Bull Valley is scenic, with their windey turns and hills, plus the trees overhanging the road and the farm fields stretching across the rolling hills.
If you've driven on Fleming Road, you have probably thought "This is pretty" or words to that effect. But why do people react that way to some drives and not others?
The hills. The trees. The curves in the road. Trees close to the road. Trees overhanging the road way -- a canopy effect. It all contributes to a scenic driving experience.
A "peaceful and comforting ride" is how one friend describes her trip down Fleming. Another told me that when she is all stressed out, as soon as she turns onto Fleming, the stress melts away - it has that effect on her.
But there is a plan afoot to "improve" the road -- to make it safer -- by enlarging the shoulders to at least 4 feet, and by cutting some of the hills down. The work would also include a change in how water runoff is handled.
Currently, runoff goes wherever it can since there are not consistent swales along both sides of the road. That may sound bad, but actually, it seems to work okay. The runoff flows into the existing low spots along the roadsides and slowly infiltrates into the ground, or is absorbed by plant roots. Modern engineering "standards" say that proper road design means that one must build either large swales or curbs and absorption wells to handle the runoff.
And all that engineering comes at a price - it means widening the road way by nearly 30 feet, from the existing 22 feet of pavement, to at least 30 feet of pavement and up to another 28 feet of ditches. I'm sorry, but how is that an improvement? An improvement in what way?
The first TLC easement was accepted in 1991 from Leta & Alice Clark at the corner of Thompson Road & Route 120. The sisters wanted to be sure that their "Wildflower Preserve" was never developed, despite a friend's comment that the corner "would make a perfect spot for a gas station" one day! Actually, legend tells me that the friend's comment is what led the sisters to seek out someone to help them make sure that fate would never befall their lovely corner.
The photo was taken in April 2010 while driving past on Route 120, heading from McHenry to Woodstock. About 10 years ago, IDOT redid the intersection and took some land along Thomspon and 120, which I believe led to the eventual die-off of several oaks that were very near to the roads.
There was an enormous bur oak right at the corner that died in 2009. Some say "fungus" was the cause, but I feel in my heart that the bur oak's fate was sealed as soon as its roots were cut and crushed during the road work a decade ago.