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Local News

Agreement sets Houbolt Road bridge project in motion

JOLIET – The Houbolt Road bridge project advanced last week as Joliet signed off on an agreement that sets the terms on how the public-private venture will work.

Joliet gets $2.1 million from the state to begin hiring engineers to start designing a new interchange after the City Council approved the intergovernmental agreement last week.

The project, estimated to cost as much as $190 million, includes building a bridge over the Des Plaines River, rebuilding the Houbolt Road interchange, and widening Houbolt between Interstate 80 and the bridge.

CenterPoint Properties, which has developed the massive industrial park that would be connected to I-80 by the bridge, would bear the estimated $150 million to $170 million cost to build the bridge.

The state would pay the $21 million estimated costs of a new divergent diamond interchange and widening of Houbolt Road.

If all goes according to plan, Joliet would not pay anything.

But a staff memo to the City Council emphasized in bold print that if engineering and construction costs for the interchange and Houbolt Road widening exceed $21 million “the City of Joliet will be responsible for the additional costs.”

City officials have noted a 10 percent contingency for unexpected costs built into the $21 million estimate, saying they are confident that the project will be done within budget.

“We don’t anticipate any overruns,” Mayor Bob O’Dekirk said after the council vote.

But O’Dekirk added that if the city faced additional costs, they could be recovered from tolls CenterPoint will charge truckers to use the bridge.

The agreement approved last week does not provide for the city receiving toll money. But O’Dekirk noted that the tolls have not been set yet and said city officials have discussed the possibility with CenterPoint.

“From day one, we’ve made it clear that any costs to the city we expect to recover from the tolls,” he said.

Those discussions mainly have focused on such costs as snow removal, maintenance and policing of the bridge, O’Dekirk said. The city has not agreed to take on any of those costs, but has insisted that tolls pay for them if they do, O’Dekirk said.

Councilwoman Jan Quillman raised a new concern last week when she asked what would happen if CenterPoint ended up not building the bridge.

“Did we ever get a final date on when CenterPoint is going to start this project?” Quillman asked.

City Manager Jim Hock said no date has been set yet. But, he said, CenterPoint is on board with the agreement. He added that the state will not allow any bids to be awarded on the interchange until construction begins on the bridge.

Gov. Bruce Rauner, when he announced the project, said the state expects construction to begin in 2017 with the bridge opening by early 2019.

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