News - Joliet and Will County

Joliet set to hire project manager for Houbolt Road interchange

Gov. Bruce Rauner addresses reporters, the public and elected officials during a news conference in July announcing the construction of a bridge connecting Houbolt Road and CenterPoint intermodal in Joliet. Rauner suggested at the time that construction may not start this year, although the Joliet City Council is set consider hiring a project manager for work on the interchange Tuesday.

JOLIET – The Joliet City Council on Tuesday will consider hiring a project manager for the Houbolt Road interchange, one of the first steps on the road to construction, but one that could cost the city nearly $400,000.

The interchange at Interstate 80 is part of the future Houbolt Road bridge project, estimated to cost between $171 million and $191 million.

Hiring a project manager kicks off the planning phase for the interchange, City Manager Jim Hock said.

But construction may not start this year, as Gov. Bruce Rauner suggested when he appeared in Joliet in the summer to announce the project.

Hock said construction bids could go out in early 2018. But awarding construction contracts can’t happen until CenterPoint Properties begins building the bridge.

CenterPoint does not yet have a start date for bridge construction, a spokeswoman for the company said Monday.

Hock said he wants to hire an outside project manager rather than assigning someone from the city’s engineering staff, whose time would be completely spent on the interchange.

The city has money set aside in its budget for hiring an outside contractor for the job, he said.

The costs of the project are being paid almost entirely by CenterPoint, the private developer, which would build a toll bridge over the Des Plaines River, and the state, which is covering the estimated $21 million cost of the interchange and Houbolt Road improvements.

Hiring a project manager

But the city has the responsibility of managing the interchange and road improvements, Hock said.

“[Illinois Department of Transportation] will not let any city use motor fuel tax funds for this purpose,” Hock said. “Either you pay for it yourself, or you do it yourself internally.”

The city already has a civil engineer devoted full time to managing the new downtown public transit center, a project primarily funded by the state. Joliet officials said the city’s engineering staff is not deep enough to devote another engineer full time to a single project.

“We can’t afford to lose another person for a couple of years,” Public Works Director James Trizna said.

City staff are recommending that T.Y. Lin International be hired for the interchange project in an agreement that caps total costs at just under $398,000.

T.Y. Lin also is working on the transit center project, but is being paid by the state for construction management services.

Construction timetables

The Houbolt Road project involves both building a divergent diamond interchange to replace the one there now and widening the road between the bridge and I-80. Hock said it is likely to take some time to acquire the land needed for widening Houbolt Road.

“There’s plenty of room at the interstate for the divergent diamond,” Hock said. “It’s between there and the bridge that they’ll need more land.”

Hock said the project could be ready to bid out for construction in early 2018. But he noted that the project agreement does not allow construction contracts to be awarded on the interchange and road improvements until CenterPoint has begun construction on the bridge, which would connect the company’s Joliet intermodal center with Houbolt Road.

CenterPoint spokeswoman Noreen Gallery said the company does not have a construction timetable yet.

“They’re still working on the finance, design and construction,” Gallery said.

The project was announced in Joliet in July by Rauner, who said construction would likely start in 2017 with the bridge opening in late 2018 or early 2019.

CenterPoint officials, however, immediately said the announcement was premature and that they were still studying the feasibility of the project. Since then, CenterPoint has signed on to a multi-party agreement that includes the state, Joliet and Will County, outlining responsibilities and other details of the project.

The project is designed to help relieve truck congestion on local roads by giving semitrailers direct access to I-80 as they come and go from the CenterPoint Intermodal Center.

Bob Okon

Bob Okon

Bob Okon covers local government for The Herald-News