Joliet officials on Tuesday announced first steps to ensure the safety of the Interstate 80 bridge but heard from residents saying Joliet should slow down warehousing until local infrastructure gets fixed.
Mayor Bob O’Dekirk said the city is “definitely going to ring the bells at the highest level to get something done” about the I-80 bridge over the Des Plaines River, which has been given “critical” and “intolerable” ratings in state inspection reports.
O’Dekirk and others at a city council meeting noted that Joliet does not control the bridge.
But they did hear from area residents who argued the city could do more about the amount of semitrailer traffic on the bridge.
Stephanie Irvine of Jackson Township said it was “irresponsible” for the city to continue permitting more warehouse development given conditions on I-80.
“By directing additional traffic to this area, it’s putting additional stress on this crumbling infrastructure,” said Irvine, who was a leader in the opposition to NorthPoint Development’s proposed Compass Business Park in Elwood.
Her comments prompted a response from O’Dekirk, who contended Joliet faces complaints from people outside the city about warehouses and truck stops while they are built in neighboring towns without objection.
“If the bridge is going to fall down, it doesn’t matter if another warehouse is built or not,” O’Dekirk told Irvine. “To somehow conflate that to being a Joliet problem is ridiculous.”
“It’s absurd,” Irvine replied, “to say it’s not a Joliet problem.”
Not everyone was critical of the city.
Joliet businessman George Rydman commended O’Dekirk for getting clarification on the bridge’s condition after “one day of fear” that followed a CBS Chicago report on the bridge.
Illinois Department of Transportation officials say the bridge is safe but a $5 million rehabilitation project will start this spring.
Other people at the meeting, however, also said Joliet should slow down warehouse development in light of the I-80 bridge problems.
“Given our infrastructure, maybe it’s time for a moratorium on warehouses,” said Damon Zdunich, a candidate for City Council in the April election.
On Wednesday, O’Dekirk and other city officials will meet with U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Naperville, to discuss the I-80 bridge.
“Even though we’re not in control of the bridge, we’re going to make it a priority to get something done,” City Council member Larry Hug said.