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Group aims to move the conversation forward on Will County I-80 concerns

With 37 fatal crashes dating between 2001 and 2016, transportation infrastructure issues along Interstate 80 near Joliet became the focus of a recent community town hall meeting.

The event, at University of St. Francis in Joliet, organized by a group dubbed Residents United for Safer Highways (RUSH), joined a number of transportation organizations’ representatives, state and local municipal officials, residents and other community members, seeking solutions to the issues noted over the years.

Marc Poulos, executive director of the Indiana, Illinois & Iowa Foundation for Fair Contracting, referenced the number of fatalities and said it is time to make investments, so as to prevent vehicular crashes, many of which are resulting from the design of the roadway.

“I can tell you that from doing this transportation and infrastructure [job] for the last decade, a lot of these things are avoidable,” he said.

A Phase I study of Interstate 80 is to be completed in 2018 to give representatives for transportation organizations and state and local officials insight on how to approach the project.

The Illinois Department of Transportation tackled a number of transportation infrastructure projects over the years, with efforts taken on to add new lanes to Interstate 80 East, extend Interstate 55, widen arterial roads in Will County, and fund the multimodal facility in Joliet.

“IDOT understands and the State of Illinois understands that we have issues here, that we have problems here, and we need to find solutions sooner rather than later,” said Randall Blankenhorn, secretary of the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Blankenhorn wanted it to be clear that IDOT is not resting on its laurels.

“At the end of the day, IDOT isn’t going to fix this problem by itself,” he said. “We need to have our communities; we need to have the county; we need to have the public helping us think through what are the right solutions, how do we do it faster, how do we do it more efficiently, how do we more wisely spend taxpayer dollars, to make sure that we’re providing that safe, efficient system that we really want to talk about.”

When asked questioned if Illinois State Tollway Authority would be willing to take Interstate 80 off IDOT’s hands and make it a tollway, Kevin Artl, chief operating officer for the Illinois Tollway, said they must study the situation to determine if it is feasible to get involved.

There are several options to be explored, some of which require the federal government to take it up and others that do not.

Joliet is one of several communities impacted by the issues facing Interstate 80 whereby its officials have been lauded for efforts to make transportation infrastructure a priority.

“I know I’ve been to Washington, D.C. talking about this issue,” Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk said. “[I’ve] been complimented by labor leaders in Washington, D.C. and elected officials who are pointing to the [Houbolt Road] bridge as the way going forward.”

The City has not yet announced when ground is slated to break on the Houbolt Road bridge project, which will utilize a public-private partnership to make it possible. Joliet officials recently took action to form a pact with Will County dealing with some related property along Vetter Road to help advance the effort. Efforts to construct the Houbolt Road bridge will rely on $21 million in state funding and another $160 to 180 million through a public-private partnership.

Poulos said having the town hall meeting is a step in the right direction and applauded everyone on hand for coming out.

“You have to get people that are in the community involved in order to voice their opinions about this and show up to things like this to effectuate change,” he said.

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