Thursday, August 16, 2018

11th Street extension ‘an invitation’ for UIS, community interaction

It is only about a half-mile stretch of road, but University of Illinois Springfield officials and community leaders believe the 11th Street extension, which opened Saturday, will have a far-reaching, positive impact that will bind the city and university closer together.

The extension, which is five lanes (two in each direction with a center turn lane) with sidewalks and a bike lane, establishes the first-ever direct connection between downtown Springfield and UIS. 

Decades in the making, it began construction in early 2017. Its estimated price tag was $7 million, with $5.4 million covered by federal funding and the rest by the city.

“It feels great. I think not only is it a real achievement for the city, but I think it really is going to have a very positive impact on the interaction between the city and the university,” said UIS chancellor Susan Koch. ”... It’s going to make the downtown area more accessible to our students, but it’s also going to make the university more accessible to the community.”

Words like “interaction” and “cohesion” were common among those who spoke of the effect the connection will have on Springfield and the university.

Though within Springfield city limits, UIS has historically been at arm’s length from the city, separated from each other by Interstates 55 and 72 and, until now, the lack of a direct link between the two.

“Growing up in Springfield my whole life, people describe where UIS and Lincoln Land are in our town (as) — even though it’s only 10 or 15 minutes away — it’s way out there, it’s way out there on the edge of town,” said state Rep. Sara Wojcicki Jimenez, R-Leland Grove. “And I think what this will do and what I hope it continues to do is spur those connections between the university and downtown.”

Jimenez, herself a graduate of UIS, said even up until a few days ago, she had to think about how she normally traveled to the university, with all its zigs and zags. 

Under the Dome Podcast Click to listen University officials say the opening of the street arrives at the “perfect time” as the university gears up to increase its presence in downtown Springfield.

UIS is preparing to apply for an innovation hub as part of the Discovery Partners Institute.

While not committed to a specific site and still formulating plans, Koch said, in addition to an incubator, a downtown university presence could include housing its Volunteer and Civic Engagement Center and Statehouse-based programs like the Illinois Legislative Staff Intern Program and the Public Affairs Reporting Program.

Koch, pointing to the new UIS Student Union and the variety of shows offered at the Sangamon Auditorium, among other things, said she hopes “the opening of the street as an invitation for (the community) to come out to campus.”

“People should remember, this is a public university. It doesn’t belong to me, it belongs to the people of Illinois,” Koch said. “And they should feel like it’s theirs. And I think the opening of this street could be an invitation.”

This story appeared in The State Journal-Register on August 11, 2018.

Read the entire story online.