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Illinois hunting and fishing

This dead raccoon became part of recent striping work done by a state-contracted road crew on Illinois Route 89 north of Metamora. Photo courtesy of Landon Durst.

Road crew paints over dead raccoon

August 19, 2011 at 02:03 PM

Peoria Journal-Star

CAZENOVIA - A picture is worth a thousand words, but in this case just one immediately comes to mind:

Why?

That’s what head-turning motorists wondered recently while rambling along Illinois Route 89 near this Woodford County hamlet, just north of Metamora. For more than a day, a dead raccoon was part of fresh striping along an outside lane of the roadway.

Why? A state-contracted road crew didn’t bother to shove the roadkill out of the way before a truck sprayed the stripe.

“That’s what’s hilarious,” said Chuck Tanton of Metamora.

The comment came with a chuckle - but not of total amusement. Tanton, a former Woodford County Board member, can’t imagine why the crew not only striped over the corpse, but - as noticed on his repeated trips past the coon - left it out there for at least a day, maybe two.

Echoing that sentiment is Landon Durst, who runs Durst Trucking Service in Cazenovia. He starts work in the wee hours. So, at 3:15 a.m. on Aug. 2, he was driving from his Metamora home to his company. His headlights flashed across a furry, white-striped lump.

“What was that?” he thought. “There’s no way there’s a dead animal painted white.”

Either that, or maybe a mutant skunk with a wrong-way stripe, sleeping alongside the road. So, Durst turned around to take another look. Yep: striped coon. He took a picture, which he showed to other area residents. They couldn’t believe it, either.

For sure, this is not a high crime. I mean, it’s a dead raccoon. Still, none of this looks good. It smacks of laziness or carelessness.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen such. Three years ago, a city of Peoria public-works crew did likewise, painting a no-passing line across a squashed opossum in the middle of East Frye Avenue. After a photo and column here, the city told public-works employees to go the extra step and kick roadkill out of the way before striping.

Seems reasonable, eh? Not always, to everyone.

The Illinois Department of Transportation was behind the striping, but contracted out the job. IDOT spokesman Brian Williamsen didn’t want to say much about the matter, including the agency’s view on white-striped wildlife carcasses.

“We appreciate your letting us know,” he told me. “We’re going to look into this.”

Super. Shortly thereafter, he contacted Park-Mark Inc., the St. Louis-based road-painting company contracted by the state. Later, owner Rick Toman phoned me. He sounded like a pretty nice guy as he explained the situation.

“IDOT specification is very specific that pavement markings are not to be placed over dirt, debris or small obstacles,” he said. “This would normally include striping over small dead animals.”

Good policy. And Toman says the roadkill striping is a rarity.

But he stressed that his crews focus on safety. The night-time project involved upwards of seven workers and four trucks. And stopping on a highway sometimes can be tricky.

As Toman says, “This involves a split-second decision based on field conditions at that precise moment.”

That sounds like something from the mouth of a football coach or military strategist. Still, it’s not as if Route 89 thereabouts is like rush hour on Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive. And the crew vehicles mosey along at 10 mph, at most.

The Woodford County Highway Department had nothing to do with the coon striping. But acting engineer Bob Cherveny, who runs the department, says county crews likely would do the same thing as the contractor.

As he sees it, a small animal compromises just 15 inches or so of striping. And a raccoon poses no safety risk, so there’s no crucial reason to get it out of the way.

“I can see moving it, if it’s a deer in the road,” Cherveny says. “You’d probably move it as a traffic hazard.”

I get all that. But neither I nor those Route 89 passers-by understand this riddle: Even if a crew doesn’t want to stop, why not go back later, remove an animal and make the road look right? The coon was there a day or two. Not pretty.

Eventually, though the coon disappeared, and the stripe was made whole. No one, not even Toman, seems to know who took care of that.

Still, he agrees that while any roadkill looks bad, painted roadkill looks worse. He continues to stress safety among employees. But, in wake of the Cazenovia Coon Catastrophe, he changed the policy: If a dead critter gets striped, workers are to return later and fix the mess.

Sounds good. Everyone wins. Except the roadkill.

Hey, you can’t make everyone - or every raccoon - happy.

PHIL LUCIANO is a columnist with the Journal Star. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), 686-3155 or (800) 225-5757, Ext. 3155. Luciano co-hosts ‘The Markley & Luciano Show’ from 5:30 to 9 a.m. on 102.3 Max FM.

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