June 28, 2022
Local News

Joliet council could vote Tuesday on lease for Houbolt Road bridge

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The Joliet City Council on Monday was getting its first look at a 99-year lease agreement that spells out terms for future city ownership of a privately built Houbolt Road bridge estimated to cost $160 million.

The council is slated to vote Tuesday on the lease, which must be approved before bridge construction starts.

The lease agreement had not been made public as of Monday and was not yet completed.

Council members said they were getting information about what is in the agreement in private meetings. There was no public presentation on the lease agreement at the pre-council workshop meeting Monday, although one is expected before the council votes Tuesday.

The lease agreement has been in the works for months and at one time was expected to be brought to the council for approval in December.

It spells out the terms by which Joliet will lease back the bridge to the private partnership created to build, operate and maintain it. Officials have said the agreement will be designed so that Joliet incurs no costs.

The bridge over the Des Plaines River will be built by a joint venture created by CenterPoint Properties, which was expected to be the owner of the bridge when the project was announced by then-Gov. Bruce Rauner in 2016.

However, a lawsuit brought by BNSF Railway, which has a railroad running under the future bridge and runs an intermodal yard in Elwood that would be served by it, led to a settlement in which Joliet agreed to take ownership.

The bridge is expected to relieve truck traffic from local roads by giving direct access between Interstate 80 and the CenterPoint Intermodal Center that contains intermodal yards in Joliet and Elwood.

Interim City Manager Steve Jones told the council Monday meeting that the vote may be delayed because the lease agreement has not been completed.

“We were hoping it would be 100% pulled together, but unfortunately it’s 99.9%,” Jones said.

Mayor Bob O’Dekirk, however, indicated he wanted a vote on the lease agreement Tuesday.

O’Dekirk said the matter was on the agenda because he wanted “a hard date” for completion of the agreement.

“We basically put a hard date on this and said if we were not going to move it forward we would go in another direction,” the mayor said.

O’Dekirk has been a leading proponent of the bridge since he was first elected mayor in 2015.

Council member Michael Turk said he met Monday with Assistant City Attorney Chris Regis and CenterPoint representatives for an explanation of the lease agreement.

“They gave it to me to read,” Turk said. “They basically went through briefly the terms of it.”

Similar meetings reportedly were held with other council members.

Bob Okon

Bob Okon

Bob Okon covers local government for The Herald-News