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State officials give update on I-80 corridor project

By Rex Robinson | 10/20/2021, 2:42 p.m.
State officials visited Will County on Monday to recommit to a six-year plan aimed at a complete overhaul of the ...

State officials visited Will County on Monday to recommit to a six-year plan aimed at a complete overhaul of the Interstate 80 corridor.

Gov. JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Transportation joined by local officials introduced the six-year plan to rebuild Interstate 80 in Will County. Made possible by the Governor’s, bipartisan Rebuild Illinois capital program, the $1.2 billion project will replace more than 50-year-old infrastructure on a condensed timeframe and create thousands of construction and permanent jobs while positioning the region for long-term economic opportunity.

“We were excited to see Governor Pritzker, Lt. Governor Stratton, and IDOT Secretary Osman visit Will County to emphasize the critical need for completion of the I-80 project. Getting to the finish line on a project of this scale requires consistent leadership from state and local officials, and we are fortunate to have that support,” said Doug Pryor, vice president of economic development for the Will County Center for Economic Development.

For Pryor and other local officials, the I-80 overhaul represents a myriad of benefits for the County – everything from improved traffic safety to economic development.

“The investment of $1.2 billion in the Will County portion of Interstate 80 will provide significant construction and engineering job opportunities for the next six years,” Pryor said. “Beyond the construction, modern infrastructure is supportive of job growth and retention in all industries.”

Pritzker said the rebuild would transform 16 miles of I-80, redesign auxiliary lanes and interchanges to reduce congestion, and rehabilitate over 30 bridges along the roadway.

“These overdue improvements will not only make it safer for commercial drivers, but for the thousands of families who rely on I-80 to commute to work, drive their kids to school, and move safely through their daily lives,” Pritzker said. “While this project is ambitious in scale, it has also been designed to minimize its impact on the residents that live along the highway. New pedestrian and bicyclist paths will help keep communities better connected and eight miles of noise walls will help keep surrounding neighborhoods insulated from noisy traffic.”

“The I-80 project is a major step in the amazing Rebuild Illinois plan” said Lt. Governor Stratton. “The purpose is to improve infrastructure, but at its core Rebuild Illinois is about connecting us as people by repairing the roads and bridges we travel every day to work, school, and to visit friends and loved ones.”

As one of the country’s three coast-to-coast interstates, I-80 through Joliet and Will County carries approximately 80,000 vehicles a day, about 25 percent of which are trucks. Due to the outdated design and capacity restraints, congestion as well as frequent merging and weaving are common. To shorten the construction timeline, several project components and land acquisition efforts will be done concurrently to deliver a cornerstone project of Rebuild Illinois more quickly, with less impact to the public.

As one of three coast-to-coast interstates I-80 is critical to the national infrastructure and an important link for local industry to reach markets throughout the country, according to Pryor.

“Will County’s infrastructure assets, including highways, rivers, rail, and pipelines, will continue to be among the most attractive assets we have for businesses looking to locate or expand in the region,” he said. “Post covid, the global focus on supply chain efficiency will further emphasize the need to locate projects near customers and transportation assets.

We expect Will County to continue to be very competitive on projects of all kinds for many years to come.”

Pritzker and IDOT officials laid out a timeline and phases for the completion of the I-80 project, with a six-year plan to complete all phases. There are several projects currently underway that are part of the reconstruction of and improvement of I-80 through Will County.

These include the I-80/Route 30 interchange reconstruction, Houbolt Road Extension Bridge project (and forthcoming new I-80/Houbolt Road interchange), and the replacement of bridges east of the Des Plaines River on I-80. Starting next year, the section from Ridge Road to the DuPage River will be under construction, Pryor said, adding that improvements will begin from Ridge Road to U.S. 30 in 2023, leaving construction of the Des Plaines River bridges and Center Street and U.S. 52/Illinois 53 (Chicago Street) interchanges in 2026 and 2027.

Advance work on I-80 started this summer with a $41.7 million project to replace the eastbound bridges over Hickory Creek, Richards Street, Rowell Avenue/Canadian National Railroad, and westbound over Richards Street, in Joliet, Rockdale and New Lenox, while widening eastbound I-80 from Gardner Street to Rowell Avenue. Once the eastbound improvements are completed next year, similar improvements will begin in the westbound direction.

When it wraps up in 2027, the overall I-80 project will have redesigned and rebuilt 16 miles from Ridge Road, in Minooka, to U.S. 30, in Joliet and New Lenox, while adding or extending auxiliary lanes to improve safety and reduce congestion. Interchanges will have been rebuilt or improved at Interstate 55, Illinois 7, Center Street, Chicago Street, Richards Street and Briggs Street, with a new flyover ramp linking southbound I-55 to westbound I-80 to improve traffic flow and safety. More than 30 bridges will have been rehabilitated or replaced.

“With demand for freight projected to double in northeastern Illinois the next 20 years, Will County’s role as a transportation hub and the country’s largest inland port is critical,” said Illinois Transportation Secretary Omer Osman. “We know I-80 drives commerce in this vitally important part of the state. At the governor’s direction, we are expediting these improvements as quickly as we can.”

To ensure I-80 no longer acts as a barrier to local mobility, bicycle and pedestrian connections will be provided through interchanges and at overhead crossings as well as along Chicago Street between Doris and Fifth avenues.

The larger I-80 improvements will include workers from the Highway Construction Careers Training Program, an IDOT initiative, in partnership with South Suburban Community College, in South Holland, and Dawson Technical Institute of Kennedy King College, in Chicago, to provide minority and female students with on-the-job experience toward a career in the construction trades.

Under the leadership of Pritzker, IDOT is delivering major upgrades throughout the I-80 corridor. A $47 million reconstruction of the U.S. 30 interchange, which includes adding a third I-80 lane in each direction west from Interstate 355, concludes this fall. Further west, IDOT is investing $32 million to leverage a combined $200 million public-private effort for the Houbolt Road interchange and extension to the CenterPoint Properties intermodal facilities.

Through year two of Rebuild Illinois, IDOT has made approximately $5.2 billion in improvements to more than 3,000 miles of highway and nearly 300 bridges, as well as almost 450 additional safety improvements.

“Improving I-80 is a critical step in ensuring that our infrastructure is prepared to meet the growing transportation demands throughout the region,” said Will County Executive Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant. “Will County is the largest inland port in North America, serving as a key connection between the Chicagoland region and the rest of the country. I’m grateful for the efforts of Governor Pritzker and the General Assembly in prioritizing this important project.”