$1 billion proposed for I-80

Pritzker plan for capital bill still depends on tax hikes

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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.

Local legislators called the Pritzker proposal a good start but cautioned that more needs to be done, including finding the money to pay for a capital plan.

“We need additional revenue in order to fund the projects that are in the governor’s proposal,” said state Sen. Pat McGuire, D-Joliet. “Without additional revenue there cannot be a capital bill.”

Pritzker’s six-year, $41.5 million plan calls for $1.01 billion in I-80 improvements along the 16-mile stretch of that runs from Route 30 in New Lenox to Ridge Road in Minooka. It reflects a project that the Illinois Department of Transportation has been planning for years without the money to fund it.

State legislators are considering doubling the state's motor fuel tax to
36 cents a gallon and increasing vehicle registration fees to fund a capital plan.

State Rep. Larry Walsh Jr., D-Elwood, noted that the governor’s plan becomes one of three that are in the works in Springfield.

“We, as House members, have been putting together our own capital bill. The Senate is doing the same thing,” Walsh said. “I would say this is a starting point.”

The governor’s plan, however, is the first to lay out specific projects, said John Grueling, CEO of the Will County Center for Economic Development.

“The big news today is that the governor has finally weighed in on the need to raise fees and taxes,” Greuling said.

Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk called the governor’s I-80 proposal “great for Joliet and the region.”

If the $1 billion remains in a final capital plan, it would mirror funding needed for the state's long-term reconstruction plan for I-80, which includes replacement of the bridge over the Des Plaines River and a new interchange at Chicago Street.

O’Dekirk and other local officials have been lobbying for more infrastructure spending.

The Will County Board this week called on the state Legislature and governor to pass a capital plan, saying it was essential for the sake of the local economy. County officials said funding was needed for interstates 80 and 55, as well as local roads and bridges.

“We’ve seen employment in the freight industry grow by 140% in Will County since 2005,” Will County Board Speaker Denise Winfrey, D-Joliet, said in a news release. “We need a capital bill that will address the rapidly growing logistics industry and the overburdened infrastructure in Will County. At stake is the largest inland port in the United States. We cannot jeopardize this major economic engine.”

Will County adopted a freight mobility plan in 2017 aimed at community friendly strategies for freight development throughout Will County.

Minority Leader Mike Fricilone, R-Homer Glen, said the Community Friendly Freight Plan provides a framework for addressing infrastructure needs in the region.

The plan pinpoints 25 infrastructure projects.

They include the I-80 project in Pritzker’s capital plan but others as well, including the Lorenzo Road Interchange at I-55. The plan also calls for more funding to maintain highways, bridges and other infrastructure.

Will County is the largest inland port in the country, with more than 3 million containers traveling across its rails, roads and waterways each year, according to the release. The freight industry supports 55% of the county’s economy and provides more than 106,000 jobs. The value of products moving through Will County each year is about $65 billion, or 3.5% of the country’s gross domestic product.

“Will County and the state of Illinois have partnered on a number of recent key infrastructure projects and we are hoping to keep the momentum going with a capital bill,” Will County Executive Larry Walsh Sr. said in the release. “With investments like improving I-80, Will County will remain competitive for additional economic development and keep residents safe on our roadways. I encourage the General Assembly and the governor to keep working to get a capital bill done this year.”

The logistics and shipping industry in Will County is expected to grow. according to county officials. Freight volume may reach about 600 million tons, valued at $1.2 trillion, by 2040.