JOLIET – Business and community leaders attending the Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry luncheon Thursday agreed on one thing when speaking with Illinois Department of Transportation Acting Secretary Randy Blankenhorn.
Being home to the largest inland port in the U.S. is both a blessing and a curse.
It’s a blessing in the sense that Will County has become a champion in the Midwest for the transportation and logistics industry, but also it’s a curse because of the traffic that comes with it.
State investment is the cure, several said Thursday during Blankenhorn’s stop in Joliet.
“[Interstate 80] would be a wonderful project to widen, to ease the congestion for the heart of Joliet, which is where I have been doing business for 40 years,” George Rydman, who owns a court reporting firm downtown, told Blankenhorn. “Maybe we can widen it to New Lenox, widen it to the Grundy County line.”
Blankenhorn’s stop Thursday in Joliet marked the last legs of the state transportation agency’s 39-city “IDOT Listening Tour.”
It was a chance to hear from residents, businesses and local leaders in identifying infrastructure challenges and setting funding priorities as IDOT looks to craft a new six-year construction capital plan.
In the next six years, IDOT estimates 40 percent of Illinois highways and one in seven bridges will be in unacceptable condition because of underfunding.
“A little congestion isn’t such a bad thing. If we didn’t’ have any congestion at all ... our economy probably isn’t working very well,” Blankenhorn said. “But we’re probably a little beyond that.”
New revenue sources?
Blankenhorn was quick to warn that roads, rail and bridges will only deteriorate further without a more-stable funding source. Even then, it’ll be a matter of prioritizing as state lawmakers grapple with budget shortfalls heading into the next fiscal year, he said.
“No matter what happens, there are more projects than there’s going to be dollars,” he said. “The infrastructure needs are almost endless. So we have to look at, ‘What is this investment going to get us?’ ”
Blankenhorn said the state must look to new ways to generate revenue, noting how the gas tax – a dwindling funding source for roads – is simply no longer sustainable.
“I think the days of one revenue source, or one government or one entity paying for things, is probably over,” Blankenhorn said.
To build, not to build?
David Dodd, general manager of Fratrans Trucking Company in Wilmington, was among those who spoke Thursday. He urged Blankenhorn to ditch the controversial Illiana Expressway project, arguing the $1.5 billion project is a waste of taxpayers’ dollars.
Blankenhorn said he hopes to have more answers this summer concerning the stalled Illiana Expressway and the South Suburban Airport – both major regional projects that Gov. Bruce Rauner placed on hold earlier this year pending further review.
Some pointed to the pros and cons of the Illiana Expressway and the widening of Interstates 80 and 55, while others said they want to see a Houbolt Road bridge built to improve access to the intermodals in Joliet and Elwood.
Blankenhorn told the crowd the results from the listening tour will lead to a package of recommendations for Rauner and state lawmakers for consideration. He expects to have a report to Rauner next week.