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Local News

Joliet could be 'on the hook' for Houbolt project overruns

JOLIET – The Joliet City Council will vote Tuesday on a preliminary agreement for the Houbolt Road bridge project that would require the city to pay for certain cost overruns. The memorandum of understanding, meanwhile, is being questioned by a trucking association and the Union Pacific railroad with concerns that it could lead to tolls being placed in future years on roads leading in and out of the CenterPoint Intermodal Center-Joliet.

City officials noted that the document up for a vote Tuesday is not a final agreement for the project, which was announced in July by Gov. Bruce Rauner in Joliet. The bridge is seen as a way to relieve truck congestion on local roads by giving truckers at the CenterPoint Intermodal Center direct access to Interstate 80. The bridge would connect the intermodal park with Houbolt Road near the I-80 interchange.

The memorandum of understanding was discussed Monday at a Public Service Committee meeting where one official acknowledged that the city really does not know whether the $21 million promised by the state is enough for one part of the project: Houbolt Road widening and a diverging diamond interchange planned at I-80.

Joliet would be required to pay for costs beyond $21 million, according to the memorandum of understanding.

“If the costs are more than that, right now the city would be on the hook,” Public Works Director James Trizna told the committee. “That’s why we have to discuss it with you folks.”

Trizna said the $21 million estimate comes from the state.

“I’ll be honest with you. I don’t know how much it costs to do a diverging diamond interchange,” he said.

Trizna said the city would get a better grasp of costs after hiring a consulting engineer, but it would only know for sure once bids come in for the project.

Mayor Bob O’Dekirk later at the City Council workshop session said he had discussed potential overruns with CenterPoint Properties, which would build the $175 million bridge and charge tolls to pay for it.

“It may run over, and the city may be on the hook,” O’Dekirk said. “But we also have made it clear to CenterPoint that if that happens, we expect to get part of the tolls.”

Meanwhile, representatives from the Mid-West Truckers Association and the Union Pacific voiced concerns that certain language in the memorandum of understanding potentially opens the way in the future for CenterPoint to take over other roads and charge tolls if the revenue from the bridge is insufficient.

“What we are concerned about is our access into and around the terminal itself,” said Adrian Guerrero, director of public affairs for Union Pacific, which runs the intermodal yard at CenterPoint Intermodal Center-Joliet.

Noting that truckers will pay the tolls for the bridge, Matt Wells, associate director of the Mid-West Truckers Association, said, “This memorandum of understanding came about with zero input from my industry, and we’re the ones who are going to pay for it.”

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