JOLIET – Gov. Bruce Rauner announced a private-public partnership Monday to build a Houbolt Road bridge, saying the project will help maintain Will County as the “transportation hub of Illinois.”
The bridge would span the Des Plaines River BNSF Railroad tracks to create a direct connection to Interstate 80 for trucks at the CenterPoint Intermodal Center.
On the drawing board for years, the bridge should become a reality by early 2019, Rauner said.
The toll bridge will be funded, built and operated by CenterPoint Properties, which is spending $150 million to $170 million, Rauner said. The state will spend about $21 million improving Houbolt Road and the interchange at I-80.
The bridge will be built with “private investment – no taxpayer money,” Rauner said.
CenterPoint, however, appeared to send mixed signals in a written statement, saying it was happy to be part of the project – but that it still is assessing the financial feasibility of the bridge.
No CenterPoint representatives spoke at the news conference in Joliet. Those who were there declined to comment when asked.
The company, in response to a request for comment, issued a statement late Monday afternoon saying: “CenterPoint is excited to be part of infrastructure improvement efforts that will help to improve access and connection to the industrial areas of Will County via the interstate, ensuring safe and efficient transportation of goods, as well as creating additional jobs and economic opportunity for the region.”
It also said: “In conjunction with today’s announcement, CenterPoint is moving forward to assess the financial feasibility of the Houbolt Bridge. At the same time, we are working to coordinate the design, and construction of, and approvals for the project working with all of our investors, partners and stakeholders, including the city of Joliet, Will County and the state of Illinois.”
When asked about CenterPoint’s involvement, State Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn said the company has signed master agreements that commit it to the project.
Rauner said construction will start in 2017, with the bridge opening in late 2018 or early 2019.
He pointed to the need to relieve congestion on interstates in the Joliet area while supporting the economic growth that has occurred at CenterPoint and other industrial parks near Joliet.
“Illinois is the transportation hub of the country. Will County is the transportation hub of Illinois,” he said.
Joliet has seen a number of new companies moving into the south end of the city, where CenterPoint Intermodal Center is located.
At the Laraway Crossings Business Park, Amazon.com opened a fulfillment center last year and recently announced plans to open a second one, which would bring its total workforce in Joliet to 3,500 employees. Ikea is building a 2.8 million-square-foot distribution complex.
The economic growth, however, has been accompanied by residents’ complaints about trucks filling the roads, especially Route 53, which runs from I-80 to industrial areas in Joliet.
Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk alluded to those concerns at the news conference after contending that Joliet and Will County have become the primary area for economic development in the state.
“We also know that infrastructure hasn’t kept up with the development that is happening here,” O’Dekirk said. “I’ve heard the complaints from the people of Will County. I think we’ve all heard them.”
Local officials for years have been talking about the possibility of a Houbolt Road bridge running straight to CenterPoint to relieve traffic on other roads. Discussions have included CenterPoint, local unions, and state and federal officials.
“By working together, we can get things done,” Will County Executive Larry Walsh Sr. said.
He said the Houbolt Road bridge and interchange “is going to make our roads safer. At the end of the day, safety is the most important part of this project.”
The Houbolt Road bridge, however, is one of several infrastructure improvements local officials said are needed to relieve congestion and accommodate growth in the area. Others include adding lanes to I-80 and upgrading the I-80 interchange at Route 53.
Blankenhorn said those projects still are being discussed.
The state estimates that about 11,000 vehicles a day will use the bridge initially, including more than 6,600 trucks. By 2040, traffic is expected to grow to about 30,000 vehicles a day, including 18,000 trucks.
The project tells business prospects that the state and Will County are ready to do what is needed to accommodate continued growth, said John Greuling, CEO of the Will County Center for Economic Development.
“We think this is going to send a signal that we have needed,” Greuling said. “To build new infrastructure, that sends a very strong signal.”
• The bridge, about 2,000 feet in length, will run from Vetter Road on the south side of the Des Plaines River to Houbolt Road at Route 6.
• The intersection at Houbolt Road and Route 6 will remain.
• Houbolt Road will be widened so there are two lanes of traffic in each direction between I-80 and CenterPoint’s intermodal facilities.
• The Houbolt Road interchange at Interstate 80 will be rebuilt as a diverging-diamond design, which state Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn compared to the interchange at Interstate 88 and Route 59 in Naperville, to accommodate more traffic.
• The state expects 11,000 vehicles a day, including more than 6,600 trucks, will use the bridge when it opens in late 2018 or early 2019.