Joliet resident Roger Williams recognizes the challenges commuters face traveling in and around the county.
Often, he does not travel home south along Route 53 and Chicago Street to get through the downtown to avoid the fear of driving under the viaduct.
“It’s hard to get anything done, and I’m tired of it,” Williams said.
Williams said something has to give, “because I’m frustrated with the number of trucks that are coming through my residential neighbor and concerned about the children and the parking. It’s terrible.”
When Williams last tried to report his concerns to the Will County Sherriff’s Office, he found little assistance.
That’s why Williams decided to drop in May 18 for the third of three open houses hosted by Will County and the Will County Center for Economic Development, whose initiative is to seek community input on the development of a Community Friendly Freight Mobility Plan.
“It was very informative,” Williams said at the New Lenox meeting. “Like I said, I had never been to [any of the open house events]. I didn’t know who to complain to or who was doing what about what.”
The events were meant to give constituents an opportunity to examine not only the challenges they face, but also look at the positives generated by county officials.
The Community Friendly Freight Mobility Plan, if approved by the Will County Board in July, will provide strategies and goals to steer freight policies, programs, projects and investments throughout Will County. It will thereby serve as an all-inclusive planning approach covering freight mobility, land-use integration, workforce development, education, training and community livability.
Consultant Ann Schneider, who is working with the county to draft the Community Friendly Freight Mobility Plan, said creating such a plan is important.
“There are 55 different jurisdictions within Will County that control different parts of the road system,” Schneider said. “Coordinating across 55 entities is not easy.”
Creating that coordinating point and helping communities establish truck corridors that connect, for example, will help to eliminate, if not mitigate, the negatives exhibited, Schneider said.
Virginia Eken, of New Lenox, said she’s concerned for the truck traffic in her neighborhood.
“I live on a residential street that has children,” she said. “It’s two lanes. It has no shoulders. It was never designed to be [used by semi-trucks.] I cannot do anything to stop it. It’s very frustrating, and I’ve lived here for 40 years.”
Eken gave credit to her county board representative for getting signs posted in her neighborhood to help deter truck traffic and said while it’s a nice measure to add, the issue remains.
Eken wants officials to take further action.
“All they talk about is the all the jobs that are being created,” she said. “At $15 an hour, what kind of employment is that? Basically, the people that are involved, the ones that are the truck drivers, anyway—I don’t know about the others—they’re not spending money in our towns. They’re bringing their trucks in, they’re loading and they’re moving on.”
While economic development is often in the spotlight, access to jobs remains a concern in Will County.
“We try to make sure that we maintain not just recruiting new jobs here, paying for the infrastructure, but [also] maintaining the quality of life,” said John Greuling, president & CEO of Will County Center for Economic Development. “If the quality of life in the county is [harmed] by this type of development, people won’t want to live here. So, it’s very important that we take this plan and elected officials in the county take this plan very seriously. The recommendations, we think will go along way in maintaining the quality of life.”
In Will County, employment in the transportation, distribution and logistics industry increased 138 percent in 10 years between 2005 and 2015. That projection is anticipated to grow another 33 percent. Within that sector, 60 percent of those jobs pay more than $15.
What’s more is the jobs created are not always warehouse positions, Schneider said.
“There are a number of jobs that are being generated above that $15 threshold and with the automation that is occurring within the distribution sector and logistics sector, that’s going to lead to some higher skilled jobs in the future,” she said.
“That’s one of things we’re looking [at],” Schneider said. “This study is future trends and how that will impact what’s happening, here, in Will County and what is going to be needed to support that higher tech environment. Obviously, as we move forward into the future, the jobs that we’re seeing [and] that are going to be created as a result of all this activity are going to be higher paying jobs than what they currently are today.”
Greuling said he’s optimistic that if the plan is put in place and measures are implemented that change will come.
“The plan is the plan,” he said. “We think elements of the plan will definitely do that.”
Interested individuals are encouraged to provide their input online by visiting tiny.cc/WCFreightPlan.
For more information on the Community Friendly Freight Mobility Plan, visit the project’s website at www.willcountyfreight.org.