JOLIET – Environmental groups that successfully opposed the Illiana Expressway are giving conditional support to the proposed Houbolt Road bridge.
Gov. Bruce Rauner was in Joliet on Monday to announce the plan for a $190 million bridge with interchange improvements that would be funded primarily by CenterPoint Properties.
Openlands and Sierra Club issued a joint statement within hours after the governor’s announcement saying they welcomed the bridge project.
Representatives from both groups said the bridge is a good idea in so far as it directs traffic to the north and west, away from the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in Wilmington and Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood.
But there are still reservations.
“I would not say we support the bridge project yet,” Jack Darin, director of the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter, said Tuesday. “We want to make sure it’s not moving the problem from one area to another.”
Neither group is opposed to a bridge that would move truck traffic to a rebuilt Interstate 80 interchange in Joliet. But they said they want to make sure that’s what the bridge does.
“It’s a great step, but it’s not everything we need,” said Stacy Meyers, staff attorney for Openlands. “We don’t want haphazard infrastructure that directs trucks all over the place.”
Meyers said the groups are looking for a comprehensive plan that would ensure trucks are moving north to I-80 and west to I-55.
That could include restrictions on where else trucks could go. But such restrictions were not part of the plan announced Monday.
Rauner even mentioned the need to be wary of putting tolls so high on the bridge that trucks avoid it.
“I have a lot of trucking friends,” Rauner said. “They don’t like to pay tolls. We’re going to have to keep the tolls modest.”
The tolls, however, would pay CenterPoint’s costs, estimated at $150 million to $170 million to build the bridge. The state plans to spend $21 million to widen Houbolt Road and upgrade the I-80 interchange.
CenterPoint said it still is doing a feasibility study on the bridge, which would connect the CenterPoint Intermodal Center with I-80.
In the meantime, environmental groups would like to see the Houbolt Road bridge become the final nail in the coffin of the imperiled Illiana Expressway plan, another public-private venture but one that Rauner has refused to fund.
John Greuling, CEO of the Will County Center for Economic Development, said the county still needs the Illiana.
The Houbolt Road bridge, Greuling said, “doesn’t serve the same purpose. It provides access to the intermodal center. The Illiana is a bypass for freight traffic. They’re two totally different projects. ... The Houbolt Road bridge does not address through traffic.”