Houbolt Road bridge progress lauded at ceremonial groundbreaking in Joliet

Bridge is 20% built, opening expected in spring 2023

The Houbolt Road bridge in Joliet is well underway, as was evident by the fact that three of the bridge support piers already were built at a groundbreaking ceremony held Tuesday.

The groundbreaking was more of a progress ceremony where CenterPoint Properties Chief Development Officer Michael Murphy announced that the bridge is 20% completed.

Construction started in March.

“I look forward to no later than the spring of 2023 when we cut the ribbon and open up this new piece of infrastructure,” Murphy said.

The groundbreaking was staged in the middle of an excavated path leading to the Des Plaines River, giving what Murphy called “a sense of the touchdown here” for the bridge that will be nearly a half-mile long.

The future toll bridge is intended to provide a direct path from the CenterPoint Intermodal Park, which includes intermodal yards in Joliet and Elwood, to Interstate 80.

Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk said he considered the bridge the “biggest step” to relieve truck traffic from local roads since the intermodals were built but not the final step.

“I’ve said many times this is not going to solve the traffic problems, the trucking problems, but it’s a big step in the right direction,” O’Dekirk said.

He had made the bridge a priority since first being elected mayor in 2015.

Murphy described O’Dekirk as a driving force behind the bridge and said, “This project would be nowhere without him.”

Planning for the bridge began as far back as 2010 or earlier, Murphy said, when he joined late Will County Executive Larry Walsh Sr. and others in the barn at Walsh’s farm and began to talk about the possibilities.

Walsh’s widow, Irene, was invited to the groundbreaking to honor her late husband’s contributions to the project.

The bridge itself, estimated to cost at least $150 million, is being funded and built by a private partnership that includes CenterPoint and United Bridge Partners.

Joliet with the state of Illinois is widening Houbolt Road and building a new interchange, a $32 million project to accommodate its increase in traffic.

Jose Rios, Region 1 engineer for the Illinois Department of Transportation, called the project a “first-of-its-kind agreement in the state of Illinois.”

The entire road extension, which will connect with CenterPoint Way on the south side of the Des Plaines River and Houbolt Road at Route 6 on the north side, will be 1½ miles. The bridge will be 0.4 miles of that.

Tolls have not been set yet, although Murphy said they would be in the ballpark of rates set by the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority on the state tollways.

The bridge will be accessible to cars and trucks, although it’s envisioned to be used primarily by trucks.

The three support piers already completed, two on the north bank of the Des Plaines River and one on the south bank, are among seven piers to be constructed. The caisson, a watertight retaining structure used when bridge foundation repairs are needed, for another pier to be built in the river is done, too.

Actually building the bridge likely will be the fastest step of the project.

Former Gov. Bruce Rauner announced the bridge plan July 11, 2016, and he estimated construction would start the next year, with the bridge opening by early 2019.

However, a number of factors contributed to the longer-than-predicted timetable: lining up project partners project, working out legal problems and completing a 99-year lease in which the city of Joliet will own the bridge while the joint venture operates and maintains it.

“We hit a couple of headwinds here and there,” said Doug Witt, president and CEO of United Bridge Partners. “But we got through them all.”

Bob Okon

Bob Okon covers local government for The Herald-News