ROCKTON - Rockton is set to have two permanent traffic lights installed despite opposition by village officials and business owners.
One of the stoplights will be at Blackhawk Boulevard and Main Street, and the second will be at Blackhawk Boulevard and Union Street.
Brian Capezio owns a home good store called Village Loft of Rockton at 101 W Main St. About a week ago he created a Facebook group called "Keep Historic Rockton's Business District alive - NO STOPLIGHTS!," and so far about 1,200 people have joined, and approximately 400 people signed his petition opposing the stoplights, Capezio said.
He has been in business for a year and a half, and he claims that no residents, business owners or officials desire these stoplights that he believes will hurt downtown businesses that are already struggling due to temporary stoplights that are in place.
"I don't have to convince people. People know," Capezio said. "They don't want this."
He said businesses have already been hurt due to people avoiding downtown because of the stoplights.
He said even locals are now avoiding downtown because of the temporary stoplights, and he said it's only going to get worse from there.
"It's going to hurt businesses. It's going to hurt tourism, and it's going hurt people, because it's only a matter of time before there's car accidents," he said.
As someone who has seen traffic patterns outside his store window for the last year and a half and who has served more than 11 years in the public safety field as a firefighter/paramedic in Rockford, he said putting in stoplights where they aren't needed ends up causing more accidents, because it changes traffic patterns and causes them to speed up through lights.
In a Facebook post on the group, Capezio writes: "Being a commercial truck route, having at least one blind spot in each direction of Blackhawk and Main and the high school in the near vicinity these combined create a serious safety threat to drivers, pedestrians and property in these intersections."
However, Scott Kullerstrand, operations, design and planning engineer for region 2 of IDOT, said the traffic signals are a necessity and will move traffic much more efficiently.
He said four stop signs at an intersections are recommended when the traffic is balanced. Since traffic is uneven between the two roads, Kullerstrand said Rockton fit the national warrants for traffic signal justification. He said IDOT takes local traffic patterns and predictions on future patterns when designing stoplights. The village and IDOT will split maintenance costs, including electricity, 50/50.
"There's frequently opposition to this when there's change, but once it's done I think things will calm a little bit," Kullerstrand said.
He said the stoplights are an investment in equipment that will last 25 to 30 years.
Capezio said the stoplights will also take away from the quaintness the village is known for.
Rockton Village President Dale Adams said the village paid $60,000 to upgrade the poles to make them fit in with the downtown aesthetic. The rest of the cost was covered by IDOT.
However, Adams said the village board is not in favor of the stoplights. In 2013, the board voted to send a letter to IDOT opposing the stoplights. However, since IDOT owns the roads the decision ultimately is up to the organization.
"It was a battle we lost," Adams said.
In regards to the current opposition, Adams said there isn't anything the village can do, as IDOT has already spent thousands of dollars on the project.
"I don't like the idea of them either, I just think it's too late to stop," Adams said.
This has been a 20-year-long process in which the village has had four public hearings and everyone has expressed their concerns. "They keep telling me it's going to improve traffic, so we'll have to see," Adams said.
However, Capezio isn't giving up. He hopes to continue to gain enough awareness and support for his opposition and has secured a meeting with state Rep. Joe Sosnowski, R-Rockford, this month. He hopes to meet with other representatives as well. He said that downtown stores are already being affected by the temporary stoplights and urges everyone to support the downtown businesses. Though he has a supplemental income as a firefighter/EMT, he said other owners rely solely on their stores.
"I'm only going to lose money for so many months," Capezio said. "I didn't get into business to lose money."
Adams said the stoplights are expected to be installed by October or November.