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July 27, 2021 3:00 PM, EDT

P3 Project Gets Underway to Ease Freight Movement in Chicago Area

Traffic congestion in Joliet, Ill. Trucks and cars sit in congestion on a road in Elwood, Ill., en route to the CenterPoint Intermodal Center in Joliet. (Safe Roads Illinois)

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Illinois officials recently announced construction has started on the Houbolt Road Extension project, an effort to improve traffic flow and freight movement near Joliet.

About 45 miles southwest of Chicago, Joliet serves as a major intermodal hub. The public-private partnership includes a 1.5-mile extension of Houbolt Road in the form of a tolled bridge that would span the Des Plaines River.

The new structure would create an important link, offering two lanes of traffic in each direction between Interstate 80 and a cluster of intermodal facilities. A major freight route, I-80 runs from San Francisco to Teaneck, N.J.

Matt Hart, executive director of the Illinois Trucking Association

Hart

Illinois Trucking Association Executive Director Matt Hart said the Joliet area has become popular for intermodal traffic because Will County offers proximity to I-80 and a freer flow of trucks than downtown Chicago.

Currently, Hart said trucks serve the area that the new bridge would link to by traveling on state Route 53 or taking I-55 to Arsenal Road.

“We have been encouraging additional capacity there for a long time,” Hart told Transport Topics. “This will add to the capacity. It will allow trucks better access to this area. That being said, it’s also a bridge that is going to be paid for by tolls on trucks. So it will provide more capacity, but it’s going to come at a price.”

CenterPoint Properties, an industrial real estate company, will build and operate the bridge. Under an agreement between the city of Joliet and the Illinois Department of Transportation, the city will oversee $32 million in state-committed dollars, which will be used to support the project.

Hart said freight hubs and distribution centers are all over this area. Joliet and neighboring Elwood are home to CenterPoint Intermodal Center, a massive inland port. The association’s Chicagoland office is in Joliet.

ITA’s policy is to oppose tolls on existing highways and remain neutral about tolls on added capacity. Because the Houbolt project would add capacity, ITA neither opposes nor supports it. However, Hart said ITA maintains that traditional user fees such as the fuel tax still are the most efficient way to build infrastructure because their administrative costs are lower than those associated with tolling.

Toll rates on the bridge haven’t been determined. Hart said trucking firms will want to dodge the toll bridge but acknowledged that many companies will end up using the facility, ultimately passing costs down to consumers.

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“I think that every trucking company is going to do their best to avoid the toll, just because that makes economic sense,” Hart said. “At the end of the day, every truck that’s on the highway is there because consumers need something or want something. And the consumers and the marketplace will require that it be delivered at the most cost-effective means possible.

“I think, in the long term, you will see more trucking companies use that bridge and they will build the price off that toll into the cost of goods.”

Besides the bridge, the project will reconfigure Houbolt Road’s interchange with I-80. Construction is expected to be completed in 2023, according to Gov. Jay “J.B.” Pritzker’s office.

The investment was supported by Pritzker’s Rebuild Illinois plan, an infrastructure improvement initiative approved in 2019 that is meant to support investment in roads, bridges, transit, education, state parks, historic sites and clean water infrastructure.

“This project is just one of several major upgrades of I-80 in the coming years, thanks to the governor’s vision,” Illinois Transportation Secretary Omer Osman said. “The new bridge will link I-80 and the intermodal facilities in Will County, alleviate traffic congestion, make travel safer along a critical national corridor and further strengthen the state’s economy.”

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