Opinion

Houbolt Road bridge hits close to home

One family offers a slice of how life used to be in a little part of Joliet

A lot changes fast in a city like Joliet, and precious places fade away in the course of progress.

I thought about this when hearing tales of the past from the Link family, who grew up on land that was part of a family farm near the intersection of Hollywood Road and Route 6.

The intersection is sort of ground zero for the Houbolt Road bridge project. It’s where the bridge being built over the Des Plaines River will land. It’s where trucks carrying cargo from the intermodal yards on the other side of the river will pass on their way to Interstates 80 and 55 in what is seen as one answer to providing a smoother path for the growing logistics industry in Joliet.

The Links weren’t complaining when they came to an open house Wednesday where city and state officials discussed details of a project that also will widen Hollywood Road, which becomes Houbolt Road at the I-80 interchange. The interchange also will be improved to accommodate the expected growth in traffic.

All of this is to be completed by July 2023.

“It’s going to bring a lot of traffic,” Chuck Link said. “But I’m glad to see people getting jobs.”

“We’re from a construction family,” said Cathy Link of Channahon, explaining their appreciation for the jobs that will come with the construction and trucks.

It was a family of 10.

Their father, Leonard Link, worked for P.T. Ferro Construction in Joliet and drove a truck.

So life when they were kids had already had changed from when their grandfather Clyde McMillin farmed the land where lived.

“We used to count the cars coming from Caterpillar,” said Chuck, who moved from Shorewood to the family home after his father died.

The Joliet Caterpillar plant on Route 6, now gone, employed nearly 7,000 workers at its peak. So there would be a lot of cars to count as workers changed shifts. The Caterpillar plant, when it opened in 1951, also brought change and jobs.

“Now, it’s more trucks than cars,” said Janice Siegel, who lives in Joliet.

Siegel offered a glimpse of life when they were kids.

“We had a pond and a creek,” she said. “We’d ice skate. We camped out.”

“It was like paradise,” Chuck added.

John Milton wrote an epic poem titled “Paradise Lost” on weightier subjects than the changes time has brought to life for those who live along Route 6. But that change is meaningful, too.

For years now, life in that section of Joliet hasn’t been quite the same as it was when Chuck and Janice and Cathy were growing up with their mom and dad and other brothers and sisters. Things have changed so much that I found it fascinating to hear about how their corner of the world used to be.

Places that matter to us are precious, and it’s good to hear about what makes them so.

Bob Okon

Bob Okon

Bob Okon covers local government for The Herald-News