New grass-roots I-80 Coalition seeks to speed up road improvements
Susan DeMar Lafferty
June 28, 2019
A new grass-roots effort, known as the I-80 Coalition, has been launched by the Will County Center for Economic Development to hasten needed improvements to I-80.
Several government, business, construction and labor officials met for the first time Thursday to lay the groundwork for a strategy to create and fund a public awareness and lobbying campaign to rev up the state’s “I-80 Project.”
Earlier this year, the Illinois Department of Transportation laid out its $1 billion plan to improve interchanges, repair bridges, and add auxiliary lanes on the interstate from Ridge Road in Minooka to U.S. 30 in New Lenox, but without funding, officials said it may take 15 to 20 years to complete.
“We don’t have time for that,” John Greuling, CED president and CEO, said.
“If IDOT does not get the money for 15 or 20 years, I wonder if it will ever get money. That’s not acceptable,” he said.
While the idea for this coalition has been talked about for “quite awhile,” it was further fueled by the county’s Community Friendly Freight Mobility Study that showed that 60 percent of the nation’s freight moves through Will County, much of that on this interstate, he said.
It also was prompted by recent discussions of safety issues on I-80 and the controversial NorthPoint Development in Elwood, Greuling said.
Some groups opposing NorthPoint’s 2,000 acre business park called for a moratorium on warehouses and distribution centers until the infrastructure could better handle the increasing volume of trucks.
Rather than stop economic development because of inadequate infrastructure, the coalition wants to accelerate the road work, Greuling said.
While hesitating to put a specific timeframe on the coalition’s efforts, he said he would like to see “a lot of progress by 2025.”
The CED created a similar group years ago to push for the I-355 extension from Bolingbrook to New Lenox, he said. But unlike building a new tollway, I-80 still has to operate as a highway during construction, which makes it more challenging, he said.
The next steps for the new coalition are to formalize as a non-profit organization, create a leadership team, and raise funds for its research and lobbying efforts, Greuling said.
The group will push for funds to improve this oft-congested highway, which may involve the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority, he said.
“There’s a lot of misunderstanding about I-80 Project — we don’t just want to turn it into a tollway, but that will be part of the solution,” Greuling said, noting that both Will County and tollway officials have expressed an interest in tolling at least a segment of the interstate.
Greuling previously lobbied for the now-shelved Illiana toll road project as a bypass to I-80 through southern Will County, from I-55 to I-65 in Indiana, and still sees that as a potential — and quicker— solution to I-80, but it lacks the necessary political will, he said.
I-80 Coalition News
Governor has proposed funding for aging infrastructure’s replacement
Inspectors this week are completing an annual examination of the Interstate 80 bridges that state officials say is done to assure they are safe to drive on, despite the need for repairs.
The city of Joliet and Mayor Bob O’Dekirk have announced the inclusion of $1.01 billion in I-80 reconstruction funds in the proposed $41.5 billion capital improvement plan proposed by Governor J.B. Pritzker. But there is nothing official from Springfield. Lawmakers still have until May 31st to approve the budget.
The push to improve Interstate 80 got a boost Friday when Gov. J.B. Pritzker proposed a state capital plan that includes $1 billion for Interstate 80.
A proposal shown to lawmakers includes major new spending on roads, transit, schools and more, but would require a doubling of the gas tax and new levies on items like vehicle registration, liquor, cable TV and ride-hailing.
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State Rep. Larry Walsh Jr., D-Elwood, has introduced legislation aimed at converting the local stretch of Interstate 80 into a tollway.
A coalition created to push for improvements to Interstate 80 will point to $623 billion of freight coming through Will County a year, making a case the local corridor has national importance.
A new I-80 Coalition is being formed to speed up long-term plans to improve the interstate.