Homer Township 143rd Street controversy kicks off Will County executive race

The fight over widening is an issue in the campaign

Will County Executive Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant speaks at the Will County board meeting on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023 in Joliet.

A political fight over 143rd Street in Homer Township has become the first issue in the 2024 campaign for Will County Executive.

Incumbent Executive Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, a Democrat, and Republican Charles “Chuck” Maher ran unopposed in the March 19 primary and will face each other in November.

But Maher got a head start in the contest with Bertino-Tarrant a week before the primary when he met with Homer Township residents and later issued a news release accusing his November opponent of “a total disregard for the will of the people.”

Traffic moves along 143rd Street on an open stretch of road between Lemont and Bell Road on Tuesday, March 19, 2024 in Homer Township.

The county executive is the top administrative position in Will County government. Certain powers go with it, including the ability to veto actions by the county board.

Bertino-Tarrant’s veto of a resolution that would have reduced a 143rd Street widening plan has stirred up residents along the road and county board members who have taken their side.

The argument against widening 143rd Street to five lanes is that it would create a highway-like road that would infringe on the rural character of Homer Glen. Property owners also say the plan requires them to give up too much land to accommodate the widening.

The alternative plan supported by the county board in February would reduce the widening to three lanes, adding a middle turn lane to the two lanes now in place.

“I am a farm person, and I want you guys to understand that we want our community to stay the way it is,” Christy Nahser, who has a 31-acre farm along 143rd Street, told the County Board last week.

Bertino-Tarrant, however, said 143rd Street has seen growing traffic for years. The plan to widen it has been in place “for a couple of decades” with repeated approvals from the County Board, she said. And the stretch of 143rd Street in question is the last leg of road construction that already has widened the road to five lanes to the east and to the west.

The final widening would cover 143rd Street from Bell to Lemont roads.

“The real issue here is I’m not doing anything,” Bertino-Tarrant said. “The County Board voted for this project. I am enacting what we started.”

She noted that County Board members who have backed the plan over the years have included Maher, a former County Board member who consistently cast votes to support the project.

“I think any road project does impact people,” Bertino-Tarrant said. “We think it’s a question of change for the better. We think, and this County Board thinks, that we are creating a safer road for travelers and people along the road.”

The County Board appears very divided on the matter now.

Last week, the County Board voted 10-9 to override Bertino-Tarrant’s veto of the three-lane alternative approved in February in another divided vote. The override vote fell short of the three-fifth’s majority required to override a county executive veto.

Maher acknowledges having voted for the 143rd Street plan as a County Board member. But he says previous votes were cast without hearing from the residents.

Residents are speaking up now, he said, because the 143rd Street project is part of a regional plan that was never brought to them for review.

“I can guarantee you if we would have brought this to the community and they really knew what was happening, this wouldn’t have gotten this far,” Maher said.