JOLIET – Mary Jaworski’s reaction Monday morning was probably like that of many drivers approaching the Jefferson Street bridge in downtown Joliet.
“I came downtown this morning, and I saw it, and I thought, ‘Darn, today’s that day,’ ” Jaworski said.
Monday was the day the Jefferson Street bridge was closed – again – for a paint job that started in July.
It is the first of two bridge paint jobs planned this year. The Jefferson Street job is expected to be done in June, and that will be followed by paint work on the Cass Street bridge.
The discovery of structural problems interrupted a paint job that was to be completed in October. The Illinois Department of Transportation, which oversees bridge maintenance, reopened the Jefferson Street bridge Nov. 4 and announced then it planned to close the bridge again April 4 to finish the job.
Jaworski, president of the Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry, was heading downtown about 7:30 a.m. Monday, which was early enough that the bridge closing created only a five-minute delay.
After 8 a.m., traffic begins to back up along the detour routes, she said.
“I move up my normal drive times when traffic is heavy,” she said, adding that she allows for delays of 10 to 15 minutes. “It’s really difficult for the people who work down here. I understand the need. But it is difficult for the people who do this every day.”
Bridge closings are part of doing business downtown, but not necessarily an appealing one.
Going ‘around and around’
Business did get “a little slower” during the bridge closing last year, said Tony Sales, owner of the Route 66 Diner downtown.
Customers “complain because they go around and around,” Sales said. “They complain because they could go someplace closer.”
The drawbridges are the connection between downtown and the West Side of the city.
Fortunately, there are five bridges downtown. But alternative routes back up during morning and afternoon rush hours.
The official detour for the Jefferson Street bridge closing is to take Raynor Avenue south to McDonough Street. Use the McDonough Street bridge to cross the river and take Chicago Street north into downtown.
It’s not a complicated detour. But one-way streets downtown can contribute to the “around and around” effect mentioned by Sales.
Cass Street plans
Jefferson Street is a one-way bridge heading east, which means the closing only effects drivers coming in from the West Side.
Westbound travelers, however, can start making detour plans for when Cass Street, a westbound-only bridge, closes later.
“They plan on being done in the middle of June [on Jefferson Street],” Joliet Public Works Director James Trizna said. “When they get done on that, they plan on painting Cass Street next.”
Impact on events
That likely will mean one bridge closed throughout the summer. Event planners hope the closures don’t hurt attendance.
“When we have closures like this, we try to get the word out as much as possible,” said Sarah Strickland, marketing manager for the City Center Partnership that promotes downtown.
The City Center Partnership begins its downtown Farmers Markets on June 8. On July 7 is Nitro Nite, a street festival staged in conjunction with the NHRA Nationals held at Route 66 Raceway.
The city last year persuaded IDOT to delay the start of the Jefferson Street paint job until after Nitro Nite. It’s not clear when IDOT plans to start the Cass Street project. Given last year’s experience, it’s hard to be sure when the Jefferson Street job will be done.