Thank you, Senator Fitzgerald, for the opportunity to submit this testimony regarding surface transportation needs at Brookfield Zoo, located in Brookfield, Illinois. As you know, the Zoo is renowned for its conservation and education programs, with annual attendance consistently toping 2 million visitors, including nearly 225,0000 school children. The Zoo continues to rank as the most popular paid cultural attraction in the state of Illinois. In order to maintain the prestige of being one of the world’s great zoos, Brookfield Zoo must address its public safety concerns, traffic congestion and parking issues.
Over the past several years, Zoo visitor polls - and feedback from neighboring communities - have indicated increasing dissatisfaction with traffic congestion and major delays on the public roads immediately adjacent to the Zoo, as well as insufficient or inadequate parking facilities on Zoo grounds. On an average day, 30,000 vehicles pass the Zoo’s main entrance at First Avenue and 31St Street; more than 5,500 of these are trucks. On high attendance days, Zoo visitors’ cars have backed up more than 2.5 miles on First Avenue, down to the Eisenhower Expressway, and through neighboring residential streets to get into the Zoo. Inside the Zoo, limited parking - particularly on weekends - further exacerbates the traffic congestion outside and contributes to noise and air pollution.
It thus comes as no surprise that there is a high incidence of vehicular accidents at major intersections near the Zoo. Over the past five years, the North Riverside and Riverside police departments reported 210 accidents, at 31St Street and First Avenue, 103 accidents at First Avenue and Golfview Road, 44 accidents at 31St Street and Golfview Road, and 42 accidents at First Avenue and Ridgewood.
To remedy these access and public safety problems, the Zoo has consulted with the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Village of Brookfield and other local stakeholders on mutually advantageous roadway and parking improvements and is seeking federal and state funding to implement them. Specifically, the Zoo is seeking $11,072,000 for improvements to its main entrance and parking lots. These would include widening pavement and construction of an enhanced main car entrance, pavement of Zoo property for new spaces for cars, and re-pavement of the existing rutted “chip and seal” and gravel parking facilities. The Zoo is also proposing $3,502,000 in public safety improvements to 31St Street, First Avenue (a State road) and Forest Road. Chief among these are the installation of much-needed measures such as new traffic signals and a pedestrian bridge over First Avenue to be used by students at neighboring Riverside Brookfield High School and local residents.
Brookfield Zoo respectfully requests $7 million in the upcoming transportation bill to address these transportation, public safety and access improvements, which total $14,574,000. The Zoo will seek the balance of the funds from the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Thank you again Senator, for your support of Brookfield Zoo. We know that we are very fortunate to have you as our friend and advocate in Washington.