Lockport to start new study for alternative to controversial new road

Lockport officials are ready to move on a new study to assess the feasibility of using existing roads instead of a controversial proposed new north-south highway to connect Caton Farm and Bruce Roads with a proposed new bridge over the Des Plaines river.

The long-planned, $600 million project to create a new east-west route through central Will County that would connect to Interstate 355 has been in the works since 1999, with a concept plan approved in 2009. A consortium of municipalities across the area — including the City of Lockport, Will County, Crest Hill, Joliet and Homer Glen — have been involved with the project under the title of the Transportation Corridor Committee since 1999.

While Lockport officials have been supportive of the large scale project, a sticking point has been the proposal to build a new highway — called the "middle alignment" — from Bruce Road to 159th street which would run through farmland that can be developed in the future.

City Administrator Ben Benson presented a proposal for an intergovernmental agreement with the county, Homer Glen and Homer Township to the city council's committee of the whole Wednesday night regarding a $97,000 initial study to evaluate whether using Gougar Road or Cedar Road would be more viable and cost effective alternatives.

According to the agreement, Lockport, Homer Glen and Homer Township — which call itself the Eastern Coalition — would equally share the $97,000 cost of an initial study. If the study validates the proposal for an alternative to a new highway, Lockport would then commission a second study which would assess the environmental impact of the proposal.

That study would cost about $347,000 which Lockport alone would pay for "as the majority of the developable lands are in the City of Lockport jurisdiction," according to Benson's memo.

Will County "has not expressed a willingness to fund any of the additional studies," according to the memo.

Alderman Darren Deskin, who has been a vocal opponent of the proposed new highway since 2009 — before he was on the city council — said he also wanted a separate resolution at the next city council meeting formally opposing it.

"I want it definitively opposed, and then I want [the land] opened up so that we can have developers in the future," Deskin said.

Both Mayor Steven Streit and Benson pushed back against Deskin's proposal at the meeting, saying that it would be premature and that the city should await the results of the study.

"I agree with you that the middle alignment is not the right road," Streit said. "Take it easy, get the study done then we can all have a nice official reason the middle alignment is not the right way to go."

Benson gave another reason to hold off on official opposition to the middle alignment in a later interview.

"Let's wait until there is another alternative before filing a resolution behind either option because at the end, if the Gougar/Cedar options are not viable we would still need to support some connection between Bruce Road and 159th Street for the project," he said.

A "back pocket" option would be for the city to spend another $100,000 for a separate study to validate a possible Bruce Road exit at I-355, Benson added.

The Eastern Coalition has been working with the Will County executive's office and the Will County Department of Transportation for the past 18 months on the current proposal, according to Benson.

The measure will be placed on the Aug. 16 city council agenda for action. Both Homer Glen and Homer Township also still have to bring the agreement for approval to their respective city council and board meetings.

Once all three approve the agreement, it will go the Will County Board for final approval.

According to Will County Engineer and Director of Transportation Jeff Ronaldson, in a separate interview, the county is "willing to look at alternatives and the Transportation Corridor Committee will make the final selection."

Cost is the least of the factors in the selection process, with property displacement and possible environmental and historical impact taking precedence, Ronaldson said.

Ronaldson said the plan is to get the intergovernmental agreement in front of the Will County board at its September meeting.