Federal cemetery agency lists concerns about NorthPoint bridge

The National Cemetery Administration has weighed in on the NorthPoint project, putting out a letter citing concerns about a Route 53 bridge that would be built near the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery.

The letter was sent Thursday to the village of Elwood, where the bridge would be built, and comes just a few days ahead of a Joliet City Council vote on the first annexations for the future Compass Global Logistics Hub.

NCA lists five concerns about the bridge, which would be built in Elwood for the logistics park, including the possibility that it "could substantially increase the daily risk of trucks that try to illegally come through the ALNC (Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery) property."

"This situation already occurs at ALNC on a weekly basis," the letter says. "During business hours alone, four to five trucks per week are flagged down by ALNC employees and turned around."

The letter is signed by Glenn D. Madderom, chief of cemetery development and improvement service for NCA, which is a division of Veterans Affairs and oversees the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood.

It comes more than four months after the Joliet City Council approved a pre-annexation agreement with NorthPoint after a public hearing. The agreement requires a bridge over Route 53.

Veterans Affairs did not comment on the project at the public hearing.

NorthPoint spokesman Scott Burnham issued a statement Friday from the developer saying it was "surprised" by the letter after having discussed the project with cemetery officials for several years.

"Our top priority is to design a park to make the roads safer, alleviate traffic and prevent trucks from entering this sacred ground and disrupting funeral processions that honor our fallen heroes," the statement said. "We have continued to work closely with officials from the Abraham Lincoln Cemetery during the past several years and we are surprised by this recent response."

The NCA letter was addressed to Elwood Village Administrator Julie Friebele. But it was copied to Senators Richard Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, 18 members of Congress from Illinois, local officials from Jackson Township and Will County, and Stone City Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2129.

It was not sent to the city of Joliet, although NorthPoint also was copied.

The village of Elwood this week joined NorthPoint opponents, including veterans, who called for a federal review on the impact of the project on the cemetery, Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and local sites with potential historic value.

Burnham questioned the basis for a review, noting Elwood has recently allowed the construction of warehouses just outside the entrance to the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery without opposition.

"There was no call for federal review in these other developments along Route 53," Burnham said. "All of a sudden this has become an issue just days before the city council vote."

NorthPoint contends its project will reduce truck impact on Route 53 and local roads because of its "closed loop" design aimed at keeping traffic inside Compass Global Logistics Hub and CenterPoint Intermodal Center.

The bridge over Route 53 is key to the design.

It would bring Walter Strawn Drive, a road in the CenterPoint Intermodal Center, over Route 53 so trucks do not have to use the highway.

But Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery, according to the NCA letter, is now planning a cemetery expansion that would include a second cemetery exit on Walter Strawn Drive.

The planned Walter Strawn bridge could bring 3,000 to 5,000 trucks a day onto the road and pose "safety risks" for cemetery visitors at the planned exit, the NCA letter says.