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Local News

Downtown Joliet transportation project caught in funding crunch

JOLIET – The downtown transportation center project is in trouble, running over budget and facing demands from the state that Joliet come up with nearly $5 million needed to finish the job.

Joliet wants to delay construction of a bus station until more money is available to complete the entire project.

But state officials are refusing to let Joliet put the bus station on hold, Steve Jones, special projects supervisor for Joliet, told the City Council on Monday.

"I think it's fair to say the 1,200 daily riders of Metra and 150 riders of Amtrak have become unwitting victims of the [state] budget stalemate," Jones told the council.

Jones said the state was willing to let the bus station wait but changed course after Gov. Bruce Rauner took office in January.

Called the Joliet Gateway Center, the project was designed to bring public transit into one location in Joliet, including new train and bus stations, as well as realignment of railroad tracks.

The project was made possible by a $32 million state grant announced by then-Gov. Pat Quinn as he was running for election in 2010. At the time, the project was estimated to cost $42 million.

Jones said total cost for the project is now at $49.7 million, and there is a $4.9 million funding gap that the state wants Joliet to cover.

"Really, what they're saying is, Joliet, if you want the project to move forward, $4.9 million is your responsibility," Jones said.

He said the city had a memorandum of understanding in progress with the Quinn administration that would have allowed the bus station to be delayed in order to finish a new train depot and commuter platforms.

Jones said the city has called on local state legislators to negotiate a compromise with the Rauner administration that will allow the project to move forward.

IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell said through an email Tuesday that the state's "commitment to the multimodal station is unchanged."

Tridgell said the state "is obligated to meet its current financial commitment to all of the transportation partners involved," including Pace suburban bus service.

The bus station would replace the existing Pace hub outside of the Will County Courthouse.

Meanwhile, the city has shut down Union Station, the old train depot, and located temporary commuter platforms on the other side of the railroad tracks.

City Manager Jim Hock said the major purpose of the project was to move the platforms so commuters on the Heritage Corridor line no longer would have to cross tracks used by freight trains to board Metra lines.

"You can't go back and use Union Station at this point," Hock said. "Then the whole problem exists again."

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