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Group pushing safety on Will County roads great and small

Industry developments are outpacing the ability of local agencies to upgrade infrastructure, a group of safety advocates say, so they’re shifting some of their focus from Will County’s interstate highways to the rural roadways.

The group Residents United for Safer Highways presents the fourth of its series of informational public forums at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 7 at New Lenox Village Hall, 1 Veterans Parkway. The event, dubbed RUSH 4: 2030 and Beyond: The Road to Reality, is open to the public.

Expected transportation topics include the Peotone airport, Illiana Expressway, Interstate-55 road and bridge improvements, Interstate-80 road and bridge improvements, NorthPoint/Compass Park, RidgePort Logistics Center, and CenterPoint Intermodal.

But the group wants to highlight increasing danger on some of the county’s less prominent thoroughfares.

“With this one, we’re interested in widening our focus a little bit,” Scott Slocum, a spokesman for RUSH. “At first, it was an I-80 issue because of all the fatalities, but there are other issues in the Joliet area.”

RUSH wants to broaden its reach to examine safety at rural intersections. Those could include County Line Road at U.S. Route 52 near Shorewood and Cedar and Baker roads near Manhattan

Nick Palmer, chief of staff for the Will County Executive’s Office, said public input at event such as the RUSH informational forum is helpful.

“All of this together is giving us more information and more data, which then hopefully will drive more proactive planning in the future,” he said.

Palmer said he intends to speak at the event on what Will County government has done and what it will continue to work on moving forward.

“At some point, the roads are just going to get more and more clogged if we don’t have the right infrastructure in place,” Palmer said.

Other featured presenters will include Mary Craighead of the Illinois Economic Policy Institute, Marc Poulos of Indiana, Illinois & Iowa Foundation for Fair Contracting, Nick Palmer of the Will County Executive’s Office, Larry Walsh of the Will County executive’s office, and Denise Winfrey of the Will County Board.

Slocum said RUSH is not asking municipalities to stop building, they’re asking that if they are going to build, make sure there’s infrastructure in place to keep traffic moving.

“As much as we try—the people in the area—to help the organization that wants to stop growth, it’s coming,” Slocum said.

At the same time, the group remains steadfast in its effort to make the area’s largest roads safer as well.

Between January of 2010 and April of 2019, a reported 36 fatalities occurred along Interstate-80 between the villages of New Lenox and Minooka, according to data provided by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute.

“It’s extremely high for a small stretch of road,” Slocum said.

RUSH is working to get officials to push forward several initiatives, including warning/danger ahead signs, minutemen patrols and rumble strips.

Slocum acknowledged that change may not occur overnight, but is excited after learning of the state’s Rebuild Illinois Plan.

“The money that is there for I-55 and I-80 … that’s going to help out immensely,” he said. “We’re still going to have trucks. We’re still going to have congestion, but it is a huge step in the right direction.”

Palmer said Will County is optimistic knowing that state funding will be available to “put people to work building the infrastructure, but then also make the roads safer and keep us competitive.”

“Will County, as big as it is, there’s a lot of people paying taxes and they want to see that money coming bac to the county,” he said.

The hope, Slocum said, is to get elected officials together to start a dialogue enabling them to understand the importance of building infrastructure before warehouses, logistics facilities and light industrial developments are built.

“We’re playing catch-up with that right now,” he said. “If we can start that conversation, we feel like we can be successful with our event.”

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