Overgrown landscaping causes eyesore, passersby say

A once landscaped retaining wall along Illinois Route 33 in Effingham has caught the eyes of passersby who aren't happy with its overgrown weedy appearance. Dawn Schabbing photo

EFFINGHAM — A seven-tier high retaining wall that was built along with a road project to improve Illinois 32/33 on the northwest end of Effingham has recently come under fire on social media for its unkept landscaping.

Construction on the road began in 2005 and the landscaping was done around 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. “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 decided that just ordinary concrete wouldn’t be adequate.

“We didn’t want just a gray slab out there,” said Jamerson. “We wanted something that would look relatively nice, as you come into town.”

But on the Facebook page, “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.”

Her comment generated 40 comments.

“I grew up in Effingham and I go there often,” Newell said in a telephone interview. “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. Then some flowers and plants were added for an attractive look.

“It was a part of the contract to put some hardy plants in there to make it look nice,” said Jamerson. “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.”

Over time, the State of Illinois’ budget got tighter and tighter, more infrastructure began to deteriorate – and landscaping was moved down the list of priorities, Jamerson said.

In recent weeks, Jamerson said some “very preliminary talks” with the city have started, as the two taxing bodies work together to find a solution for what is now mostly overgrown landscaping.

Effingham City Administrator Steve Miller said the city has received some complaints about the current landscape or look of the wall recently. Miller concurred that the city and IDOT are in communication.

“The long-term maintenance of wall is a concern,” said Miller. “We have begun a dialog about ways to spruce the area up. We are willing to work with IDOT to come up with a plan.”

Miller said at this time, he has no specifics to share, but it is work in progress.

Due to its height and close proximity to the roadway, Jamerson said it isn’t going to be easy to fix the retaining wall’s once attractive look. Landscapers would need to use the proper safety equipment when working at the wall.

“It’s going to be tough,” said Jamerson. “We are trying to figure out what we can do on the long term to make sure it is kept up, so it can look nice for years to come.”

Newell, 76, said she also 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,” said 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 said although the wall is owned by the State of Illinois, the city will be willing to work with them to keep it in good condition. He considers the retaining wall a bonus to the roadway that was constructed starting about 13 years ago.

“It’s a very attractive feature entering and leaving the north side of Effingham, so we would like to see it maintained,” said Heuerman.

Unfortunately, the retaining wall was the subject of the news in early August 2007, when a portion of the landscaping blocks tumbled to the north side of the road after an evening thunderstorm and heavy rainfall.

Nobody 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 concrete 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. “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 a solution to improve the appearance of the retaining wall is being sought.

“I think our talks with the city will be ongoing,” said Jamerson. “We’re still pushing towards that.”

Dawn Schabbing can be reached at dawn.schabbing@effinghamdailynews.com or 217-347-7151, ext. 138