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September 1, 2020 3:00 PM, EDT

Illinois DOT Projects Aim to Bolster Peoria

Peoria, Ill. skylineThe Peoria skyline is dominated by Caterpillar headquarters at right. Other businesses include Komatsu, Maui Jim and Bump Boxes. (ghornephoto/Getty Images)

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Leading Illinois officials recently announced that a slew of infrastructure projects is underway in the Peoria area, which is an important hub for the manufacturing industry.

Announced Aug. 27, the projects represent a $280.1 million investment. They involve an assortment of infrastructure work, such as bridge rehabilitations, road resurfacing and intersection improvements. Construction is in various stages, with the exception of one project that will commence later this summer.

“Across the nation, highway construction and maintenance continue as essential infrastructure activities. Illinois is no different,” acting Illinois Transportation Secretary Omer Osman said. “These projects represent a significant investment in the Peoria area that will improve safety, mobility and create economic opportunity for years to come.”

IDOT continues work on reconstructing the eastbound span of the McClugage Bridge, which carries U.S. Route 150 over the Illinois River. Other projects include resurfacing efforts on portions of state Routes 6 and 29 that run north of downtown Peoria. The resurfacing projects are scheduled to wrap up this fall.

One of the major ongoing projects is rehabilitating the Murray Baker Bridge, which carries Interstate 74 over the Illinois River and forms a link to downtown Peoria. Construction demands required IDOT to close the interstate at the river; traffic is being routed to I-474, which loops around the southern portion of Peoria. Work began in March and is scheduled to be completed at the end of October.

Chris Setti, CEO of the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council, noted that I-74 forms an important link to I-55, Indianapolis and the Quad Cities region, which is where eastern Iowa and northwestern Illinois meet.

“I-74 runs right through the heart of our community,” Setti told Transport Topics. “I-74 is super important. It’s a major connector for us.”

On a portion of I-74 west of downtown Peoria, IDOT is improving road surface, drainage, pavement markings and bridge joints. This project, which covers a portion of I-74 that runs between state Route 78 and Kickapoo, kicked off in August and is scheduled for completion in the fall of 2021. Later this summer, IDOT plans to start a project to patch and resurface I-74 between Kickapoo and I-474.

Angel Chatterton, an instructor of accountancy within the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said the construction will benefit the Peoria area once it’s finished.

“I think it’ll direct traffic down to that area,” Chatterton told TT. “Hopefully, corona will settle down and it’ll drive traffic into that part of our downtown revitalized area. I think we’ll see more of an economic upturn.”

Funding for the projects was made possible through Rebuild Illinois, a $45 billion infrastructure improvement initiative approved in 2019 that is meant to fund transportation projects, create jobs and spur economic growth.

Industry — and associated freight movement — in Peoria largely is tied to manufacturing. Setti identified Caterpillar Inc. and Komatsu Ltd. as two of the biggest manufacturers in the city, producing bulldozers and large mining trucks, respectively.

“The bread and butter of this region has always been heavy machinery,” Setti said. “Between the two of them, that’s where a lion’s share of a lot of that freight is being [transported] either inbound or outbound from here.”

Smaller corporations in Peoria include Maui Jim, a sunglasses manufacturer, and Bump Boxes Inc., a subscription service that sends monthly boxes of supplies to expectant parents.

22013-Peoria Area Projects Map by Transport Topics

Further afield, Setti noted the large presence of logistics centers in Morton, which is 10 miles east of Peoria. In the Bloomington-Normal area, some 35 miles east of Peoria, automotive technology company Rivian Automotive Inc. is preparing to produce electric trucks.

“All of this investment in our region is going to help build the bones of economic development [that] are super important for the future of our region and the companies that are here,” Setti said. “Having all of the infrastructure improved now is going to be very helpful for growth in the companies that we have here in Peoria, [and] also ones that are nearby.”

Agriculture also is represented in some of the freight hauled in the Peoria area. Setti said key goods include corn, soybeans and Libby’s pumpkin products (the canning plant is in Morton).

“The farmers through here add a lot of traffic when they try to take their grain to market,” Chatterton said, “whether they’re going downstream on the Illinois River to hit the Mississippi or if they’re going over to Iowa to hit the Mississippi directly.”

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