JOLIET – A Houbolt Road bridge over the Des Plaines River, long talked about as a possible solution to truck congestion, is getting a big push from new Mayor Bob O'Dekirk.
O'Dekirk had been mayor for two days when he told a group of residents gathered for a meeting about the effect a future Ikea distribution center will have on their neighborhood that he wanted to see the bridge built.
"I think this project needs some leadership. I'm hoping as the new mayor to provide that," O'Dekirk said at the May 6 meeting.
Three weeks later, O'Dekirk is voicing confidence the project will become a reality.
"The chances are good. I think the principles are serious about stepping up," O'Dekirk said. "I think you're going to see some movement on this."
The plan is to build the bridge with private and, probably, public money, turn it into a toll bridge, and earn a return on the investment through the tolls. The bridge would primarily be built as a route for trucks to Interstate 80 from the two intermodals in Joliet and Elwood
O'Dekirk said he has discussed the project with private business people and union representatives, as well as state and county officials, in his first weeks as mayor.
"Everyone is really interested in getting something done," he said.
Will County Executive Larry Walsh agreed momentum is building for the project.
"I see that there are players that are coming together and looking for support for revitalizing the idea of building that bridge," Walsh said.
County officials want to see the bridge because it will bring relief to Route 53, Walsh said.
"We're going to have to make the hard decisions," he said. "Otherwise, we're behind the eight ball, trying to push a huge number of trucks down a road, past a school, and onto Route 53 – a road that was never built for that number of trucks."
The school Walsh referred to is Laraway School, which has seen a growing number of trucks driving past. It is located on Laraway Road near Route 53.
Just how the bridge gets paid for remains an issue. O'Dekirk would not identify the private businesses willing to take part.
CenterPoint Properties, which built the two industrial parks around the intermodals, is an obvious candidate. In response to questions from The Herald-News, CenterPoint Chief Development Officer Michael Murphy issued a written statement saying the bridge "would lessen the interaction between trucks and passenger vehicles on local roads."
But Murphy made no specific commitment to funding the bridge.
O'Dekirk said state officials are interested in the project because they recognize economic development in Will County "is one of the best things going in the state of Illinois. I think everyone understands that we can't get to a situation where the companies are getting choked off because the infrastructure is not there and the businesses stop coming here."