I-80 labeled ‘signature’ project

IDOT chief presents interstate infrastructure plans at Joliet forum

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The acting head of the Illinois Department of Transportation on Thursday called the $848 million Interstate 80 plan the “signature” project in the state’s largest capital bill ever.

“We are committed to it,” Omer Osman, the acting state transportation secretary, said of the I-80 project at a luncheon meeting for the Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The capital bill includes about
$848 million for improvements to I-80.

However, Osman said that the amount only represents construction spending. Adding engineering and design costs, funding devoted to the project is $1.25 billion, he said.

“Ultimately,” Osman said, “we will build an I-80 that is safer with additional capacity to accommodate today’s traffic.”

In addition to bridge replacements, the I-80 plan includes new interchanges at Chicago and Center streets, additional lanes at several interchanges for safer lane mergers and road reconstruction along a 16-mile stretch from Route 30 in New Lenox to Ridge Road in Minooka.

A timetable for Des Plaines River bridge replacements and other I-80 improvements funded through the capital bill is not set but is expected to be shown in a six-year plan IDOT will release in the coming months.

The project is a high priority, said John Baczek, program development engineer for IDOT.

“The reality is we’re going to want to go fast on that project,” Baczek said in comments made to The Herald-News after Osman’s presentation.

The I-80 Coalition, a group formed last year to urge funding for the project, also heard this week from an IDOT official on the agency’s plans for the interstate.

“The message we get from IDOT is there’s a sense of urgency on the project, and they’re going to do everything they can to move this forward,” said John Greuling, CEO for the Will County Center for Economic Development, which formed the I-80 Coalition.

Greuling also said that IDOT met last week with homeowners whose property will have to be acquired before the Des Plaines River bridges are rebuilt.

“That’s a big part of the project,” he said. “I don’t think you start having those meetings unless you’re ready to move forward.”

Osman said local concerns and news reports about I-80, particularly the Des Plaines River bridge, helped spur passage of the capital bill by drawing attention to the state’s infrastructure problems, he said.

Osman, an IDOT veteran, said Joliet and Will County had become a focus of state transportation spending even before the $45 billion capital bill was approved by the state legislature a few weeks ago.

“If Illinois is the crossroads of America, then the center is right here in Joliet,” Osman said. “Nowhere has IDOT been more active or invested more money than right here.”

He pointed to a number of projects in progress, including the Interstate 55 interchange at Weber Road in Romeoville, the Joliet Gateway Center, and the pending Houbolt Road bridge and interchange project in Joliet.

“Even without a capital program, IDOT has been very active here,” Osman said.

Construction started in 2018 by making improvements at the I-80 interchange with Route 30 in New Lenox.

IDOT previously funded I-80 work slated to begin in the fall to replace five bridges east of the Des Plaines River. The replacement project is expected to take three to four years to complete.

Work is expected to start in July on a $5 million repair project on the Des Plaines River bridges designed to sustain the structures as the state makes plans to replace them. The work includes the replacement of 1,000 expansion bearings.