The new Houbolt Road bridge in Joliet opened Thursday with promises of offering relief for roads congested with truck traffic.
Truckers were not lined up to get on the toll bridge, which opened to a smattering of traffic for at least the first half-hour after barriers were removed shortly after 10 a.m.
But it was only the first half-hour for what is expected to be at least a 100-year lifespan for the bridge, which spans the Des Plaines River and provides a direct connection between the truck-heavy CenterPoint Intermodal Center and Interstate 80.
Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk, who made the bridge a top priority when he first became mayor in 2015, joined others in cutting the ribbon in one of his last official acts before leaving office on Monday.
“Joliet gets a lot of grief about truck traffic,” O’Dekirk said. “But here we are offering a solution. Joliet is pointing a way forward.”
O’Dekirk said truck traffic is a regional issue that goes beyond Joliet. He noted the bridge was funded and built by a private joint venture that includes CenterPoint Properties.
“This has been done with no tax dollars being spent,” he said.
The idea of the bridge is to keep truckers off local roads and highways by offering a time-saving route between I-80 and the CenterPoint Intermodal Center, which is dubbed the largest inland port in the nation and is a pass-through point for millions of containers going into two intermodal yards in Joliet and Elwood.
Local officials began conceiving the possibilities before O’Dekirk became mayor.
Will County officials and other local mayors joined in the ribbon-cutting.
Shorewood Mayor Clarence “CC” DeBold said truck congestion “is definitely a regional issue. If everyone makes an effort to bring solutions forward, it’s best for all.”
The bridge is a 0.4 mile section of what is called the Houbolt Road Extension, which totals 1.5 miles and extends Houbolt Road south of Route 6. The connection on the other side of the Des Plaines River is Schweitzer Road.
The bridge and road extension was built and funded by Houbolt Road Extension JV, a joint venture between CenterPoint Properties and United Bridge Partners. The bridge and road extension had been estimated to cost between $150 million and $170 million before it started. Houbolt Road Extension JV would not provide a final cost for the project.
About $32 million in tax dollars are funding a separate public portion of the project still under construction, which is the widening of Houbolt Road north of Route 6 and the construction of a new interchange at I-80. The state is funding $30 million with Joliet adding $2 million for improvements the city wanted added to the project.
More road improvements are needed, said Channahon Mayor Missey Moorman Schumacher.
“Now we are going to concentrate on getting Route 6 widened,” Schumacher said.
Route 6 is a two-lane highway from Houbolt Road west to Interstate 55, and it will get more truck traffic with the new bridge in place, Schumacher said. Local officials have been urging the state to widen Route 6, but there is no timetable for the project yet, she said.
Another unsettled question is how much truck traffic the bridge will take off of local roads, which will likely depend on how many truckers are willing to pay the $8 toll charged for semitrailers.
“This is a good first step,” Will County Executive Director Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant said. “I look forward to seeing the numbers and seeing the traffic use.”
Doc Gregory, president of the Will & Grundy Building Trades Council, which represents union workers that built the bridge, said truckers, too, want to avoid congestion and will use the bridge to avoid routes like Laraway Road and Route 53.
“We know there is a big problem with truck traffic,” Gregory said. “The city of Joliet is a big advocate in trying to solve it.”