JOLIET – The long-term highway bill approved last week by the U.S. House includes funding for freight projects, and that could be good for Will County, local congressional members said.
The bill, which still has to be worked out with the Senate, would be the first highway spending measure in nearly a decade to promise funding for more than a two-year period.
That, combined with a new fund aimed at easing the movement of freight across the country, could help officials make plans for big projects.
Two big local plans in need of funding are widening Interstate 80 through Joliet and building a Houbolt Road bridge over the Des Plaines River in Joliet to carry CenterPoint Intermodal traffic straight to I-80.
“Those are definitely the type of projects that would be eligible for this funding,” said U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Western Springs. His district includes sections of northeastern Will County.
Lipinski will be on a conference committee created to reconcile differences between the House and Senate highway bills. Although there are differences, both are six-year funding measures and both include designated freight transportation funds.
“Each state will get money based on how important they are in freight movement across the country,” Lipinski said. “Illinois, and certainly Will County, would benefit from that.”
How much Will County benefits, however, depends on legislators’ ability to bring home money.
The $325 billion spending measure does not include specific projects yet.
Also missing from both the House and Senate bills is a way to pay for the full six years. The House bill only authorizes six years if Congress can find a way to pay for the final three years of the funding measure. The Senate bill only pays for three years.
Illinois has not fared well in past highway spending, said U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Naperville, whose district includes Will County and most of Joliet.
Foster said one victory in this spending bill is that his Payer State Amendment will be applied to show how many tax dollars are coming back to Illinois. Foster said the formula applied in 2013 showed the average citizen in Illinois got $89 worth of federal highway spending compared to $609 in Alaska.
“The average citizen in Illinois is getting rooked on both the spending side and the taxing side,” he said.
Foster said he expects the formula to lead to a fairer distribution of highway spending.
He also said the designated freight fund could help turn I-80 widening and a Houbolt Road bridge into a reality because Will County will be in a better position to compete for funding.
“Now there’s an ability to make long-term plans,” he said. “We can look at funding for long-term projects like adding lanes to I-80 and building the Houbolt Road bridge.”
The House bill provides almost $4.5 billion for the freight program, which also includes money for railroad grade separations.
The Will County Center for Economic Development has lobbied in Washington for a freight program, CEO John Greuling said.
“I think that’s extremely important for Will County,” Greuling said. “Projects like widening I-80 and maybe the Houbolt Road bridge are projects that we can characterize as having national significance because of their importance in moving freight across the country.”