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  • Megann Horstead

Annual report shows Will County is growing in more ways than one


The annual State of the County address delivered at an Aug. 15 meeting of the Will County Board shows that Will County is growing in more ways than one.

Will County Executive Larry Walsh Sr. briefly touted the county’s success over the last year, turning to Chief of Staff, Nick Palmer, to share the details.

Among the areas of note highlighted during the report included improvements in transportation, environmental programs and community development. Palmer said these initiatives, among other items, are critical to Will County in managing the projected growth and promoting a strong economic environment.

The Rebuild Illinois Capital Program, which Will County officials learned last month will benefit the county’s transportation efforts, is going to provide nearly $45 billion dollars in funding over the next six years to communities across the state. About that time, Gov. J. B. Pritzker visited the county to announce the details.

Palmer said it is clear that Will County is a critical part of the global transportation network.

“Many goods imported to the United States pass through our county,” Palmer said. “From our Community Friendly Freight Mobility Study, we know that 63% of goods passing through Will County did not originate here, nor will they end their travels here. Thus, we are a conduit for trade across the country and truly are at the crossroads of America with our many access points to interstates, railways and waterways.”

Some projects funded by the state include:

· Rebuilding of Interstate 80, from Ridge Road to Route 30

· Reconstructing and widening of Jefferson Street, between Houbolt Road in Joliet and River Road in Shorewood

· Resurfacing Interstate 55, from Weber Road to south of Interstate 80

· Improving the Jefferson Street and Cass Street bridges over the DesPlaines River

Palmer said infrastructure improvements go a long way toward keeping residents safe, all while supporting the local economy today and in the years to come.

In other developments, the county has worked for many years to solidify its position as a leader in green initiatives. The same holds true over the last year.

“During the 2018-2019 school year, our Resource Recovery and Energy staff launched a food scrap recycling program at two Plainfield district high schools,” Palmer said. “The Central and East campuses mobilized their environmental clubs and student body to publicize the new program, which enabled the school to collect food waste and turn it into a soil additive to fertilize plants.”

More than four tons of food was kept out of the waste stream through the pilot program, officials said.

“The county will assist in launching the program this fall in more schools,” Palmer said.

In June, the Will County Board adopted the Greenest Region Compact. The initiative gives participating governmental bodies access to grants and other technical assistance to enhance sustainability efforts.

Will County also joined Cook, DuPage and Kane counties to partner with the Midwest Renewable Energy Association. County action will help coordinate a group purchase to offer reduced costs to residents who choose to install solar power.

As affordable housing remains a challenge across the nation, Will County has turned to partner with the city of Joliet and the Housing Authority of Joliet to conduct a fair housing study.

“We collected 1,000 surveys from residents asking for their input about housing options,” Palmer said. “We anticipate a draft of the report will be available this month for public comment.”

The partnering entities, in conjunction with a grant from the National Association of Realtors and assistance from the local Three Rivers Association of Realtors, will help ensure that affordable housing is available to all residents.

“We must continue to advocate to our legislators to protect federal funding for [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] and other community development programs,” Palmer said. “Without this necessary funding, more families will find themselves faced with homelessness.”

Walsh stressed that Will County remains strong and has many positives, but the county is not without its challenges.

“As we become an even larger participant on the national and international stage of the global economy, we must also balance new developments with the quality of life for our residents,” he said. “I firmly believe this can be achieved because in Will County, we work together to overcome our obstacles.”

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