JOLIET – The state of Illinois has a billion-dollar plan to widen Interstate 80 through Joliet.
What it doesn’t have is a billion dollars.
“It’s a huge, huge project,” said state Rep. Larry Walsh Jr., D-Elwood.
The triple semitrailer accident with one killed on I-80 on Tuesday may be one more example of local truck traffic growing beyond the means to accommodate it. But the pace of local development has not slowed down to wait for the government money needed to build better infrastructure.
What makes the I-80 project so expensive and challenging, Walsh said, is the need to not only add lanes but reconstruct the bridges that carry I-80 across the Des Plaines River, over Hickory Creek, and above railroad tracks as it passes through Joliet.
The Illinois Department of Transportation has begun engineering for the project, Walsh said. The actual construction could probably be done over the course of five years, he said. But the state would need a capital bill and matching funds from the federal government to pay for it.
“We don’t have the resources at this time to push this along,” Walsh said. “As we sit right now, I can’t give you a time frame.”
IDOT on Tuesday did not respond to requests for an update on the plan.
But an IDOT spokeswoman a year ago said the proposed improvements would cover a 16-mile stretch from Ridge Road in Minooka to U.S. 30 in New Lenox, including work on bridges and major interchanges. It would cost more than $1 billion.
The plan includes making I-80 a three-lane highway in both directions. In the area around the Des Plaines River bridge, where it is three lanes now including exit-only lanes, it may need to be four lanes, Walsh said.
Houbolt Road bridge
Plans continue to build a bridge at Houbolt Road that would connect I-80 to CenterPoint Intermodal Center-Joliet. CenterPoint Properties eventually will build the bridge with the state improving Houbolt Road and building a new interchange at I-80 to accommodate truck traffic.
Joliet Public Works Director James Trizna said the road and interchange end of the project could be ready to go out for bids by fall 2018.
But Trizna noted that an intergovernmental agreement on the project will not allow the interchange to be built until the bridge is started.
“We can’t go out and put the plans out for bid until the bridge is under contract,” Trizna said.
The project is designed to get trucks off of local roads and onto I-80. The accident on Tuesday may leave questions as to whether I-80 can handle it.
If the bridge and interchange were built before I-80 was widened, Walsh said, “it would be a big load of new traffic.”