JOLIET – Mayor Bob O'Dekirk is expressing growing confidence that the Houbolt Road bridge will be built – and not so long from now.
"I think it's very foreseeable that if we build that bridge, and I do believe it's going to be built, you're not going to be able to blast on that site while the bridge is being built," O'Dekirk told the developer.
The bridge would be designed to cross the Des Plaines River and give trucks direct access between the CenterPoint Intermodal Center and Interstate 80. O'Dekirk and others see the bridge as the best answer to local road congestion created by truck traffic.
Asked later how foreseeable bridge construction is at this point, O'Dekirk said the Illinois Department of Transportation is urging target dates.
"They told us they wanted construction starting by 2017 and the bridge up by 2018," the mayor said.
That would be surprisingly fast for state road construction timetables. The bridge would be a private-public partnership, meaning it depends on private investment. State funding is no sure thing given the current budget crisis
But O'Dekirk said interest from private investors is growing.
"I feel very optimistic that this is going to happen," he said.
State Rep. Larry Walsh Jr., D-Elwood, agreed that IDOT wants to see the bridge built. Walsh said the truck congestion problems on Route 53 at the I-80 interchange has the attention of state road officials.
"A lot of it is contingent on the budget issues we have right now – and 2016," Walsh said. "But there is a commitment from IDOT to do this. It's a matter of getting the ducks in row."
Walsh said interest in the project goes far beyond Joliet.
"The whole intermodal facility is of regional importance," he said. "You've got the largest inland port sitting right in our backyard. ... Some of these issues we're facing are of huge regional importance."
Many details still need to be ironed out, including who will control the project if it is a private-public venture, said John Greuling, CEO of the Will County Center for Economic Development.
Putting a price tag on the project is important, too, Greuling said.
"There certainly is a strong drive to see this bridge built," he said. "We really need to know how much it will cost."
Greuling noted that a pending federal highway bill would create a specific fund for freight and intermodal projects. But, he added, "Until the rules are made for that program, we don't know if this project qualifies."