Some call it a retaining wall; others are calling it an “eyesore.” According to a story in the Effingham Daily News (Illinois), a seven-tier-high retaining wall built as part of a project to improve Illinois Routes 32 and 33 has recently been called out on social media platforms for its now-unruly landscaping, originally completed back in 2007.
“Back when we were looking at widening the road to five lanes, we held public meetings at that time,” said Greg Jamerson, program development engineer with Illinois Department of Transportation told the reporter. “We had met with property owners, as well. It was decided to build a wall rather than cutting (the earth) back, where the houses are.”
Engineers had decided that ordinary concrete wouldn’t be adequate. And Jamerson is quoted as saying, “We didn’t want just a gray slab out there. We wanted something that would look relatively nice, as you come into town.”
On a the Facebook page called “You know you’re from Effingham, IL,” Linda Newell of Strasburg pointed out that the once-attractive landscaped wall has become a “bit of an eyesore,” according to the story. Her comment generated 40 more.
“I grew up in Effingham and I go there often,” Newell said in a telephone interview with the EDN reporter. “I never expected my post to get so much attention. But, I’m glad to know I’m not the only one noticing the wall.”
The wall, intended to hold back the soil, was made with concrete retaining wall blocks. Flowers and plants were added to make it attractive.
“It was a part of the contract to put some hardy plants in there to make it look nice,” says Jamerson in the story. “There was not a landscaping agreement in place at that time. We agreed to spray and pull some weeds and initially, we thought we could do it ourselves.”
But over time, as the Illinois state budget got tighter, infrastructure began to deteriorate. Landscaping was moved down the list of priorities, Jamerson told the reporter.
Preliminary talks with the city have started, according to the story, as two different taxing authorities work together to find a solution for what has become an overgrown landscape.
Effingham City Administrator Steve Miller was quoted as saying the city has received some complaints about the wall’s appearance. He says the city and the Illinois Department of Transportation are in communication regarding the matter.
“The long-term maintenance of wall is a concern,” Miller says in the story. “We have begun a dialog about ways to spruce the area up. We are willing to work with the Illinois Department of Transportation to come up with a plan.”
Jamerson was quoted as saying that it isn’t going to be easy to fix the retaining wall. He also says that due to the wall’s height and close proximity to the roadway, landscapers working on it would need to use proper safety equipment.
“It’s going to be tough,” Jamerson told the reporter. “We are trying to figure out what we can do in the long term to make sure it is kept up, so it can look nice for years to come.”
Newell, 76, told the story’s writer that she called IDOT to voice her concern. “I know there are more pressing things than that for them, but I think they’ll take care of it,” says Newell. “If they can’t maintain it the way it was with flowers, maybe they should just put rocks or mulch down to control the weeds.”
Effingham Public Works Director Jeremy Heuerman was quoted in the story saying that although the wall is owned by the state of Illinois, the city will be willing to work with state officials to keep it in good condition. “It’s a very attractive feature entering and leaving the north side of Effingham, so we would like to see it maintained,” Heuerman says.
The retaining wall made news in August of 2007 when some of its concrete blocks tumbled into the road following an evening thunderstorm and heavy rainfall. No one was hurt in the incident, but IDOT closed the westbound lane of the then-new highway, while workers investigated the cause and cleaned up the blocks, according an EDN news report.
“During the initial construction, heavy rain came and the drainage system wasn’t functioning as it should have been at that time,” said Jamerson in the story. “We beefed up the drainage and rebuilt the small portion that had collapsed. The wall was just a small part of the road project.”
Jamerson reiterated to the reporter that a solution to improve the appearance of the retaining wall is being sought. “I think our talks with the city will be ongoing. We’re still pushing towards that.”