Things get worse before they start getting better. At least that’s the way it usually seems to work and how it will go this morning when they shut down the Cass Street bridge for six hours so they can turn it into a two-way span.
They have to do this because the Jefferson Street bridge has been broken and useless for nearly a year and isn’t expected to work again for months. So for a quarter of the day, the two most important bridges to downtown Joliet will be completely closed to traffic.
You have to think this will leave downtown even more desolate than it is on your average Saturday morning. But on the other hand, the Rialto and the rest of the City Center’s treasures will be that much safer from any marauding vandals and arsonists who might have woken up early to get a jump on the day.
There are other ways to get from the West Side to downtown besides the Jefferson Street and Cass Street bridges, of course. The Jackson, Ruby and McDonough Street bridges all seem to be working fine, the only problem being that they drop you off a bit farther from the heart of downtown.
These days, if you can believe it, even the Brandon Road bridge is an option. And if you’re feeling particularly bold and don’t mind putting your life on the line, there’s always the Interstate 80 bridge. If you’re a little too scared to go that way it’s completely understandable, especially with those alarming billboards Local 150 of the International Union of Operating Engineers bought some time ago, the ones warning motorists that the I-80 bridge was in “critical condition” and to cross it “at your own risk.”
So those are your choices this morning until they finish up with the Cass Street bridge, which is supposed to be about noon but with the way they keep pushing back the reopening of the Jefferson Street bridge, don’t be surprised if it takes much longer. With both the Jefferson and Cass Street bridges out, you either have to go out of your way or maybe die.
Things won’t be all that fantastic once the Cass Street bridge reopens either. It will only be able to handle half the traffic of a Cass-Jefferson combination, which even under the best of circumstances wasn’t exactly ideal when you consider all the waiting around whenever barges were coming through.
No, alternate routes and a temporary two-way bridge may make downtown Joliet slightly more accessible but they are hardly a solution to the traffic problems that have plagued the City Center.
Some people believe a large, fixed bridge, like the one to Lockport, might be the solution, but those people are wrong. What Joliet needs is not a bridge at all but a city-owned ferryboat to operate around the clock.
A boat would cost a fraction of a bridge, fixed or otherwise, and the fares could offset the casino revenue lost to COVID.
The only question that must be asked now is, why stop with fares? They might as well put slot machines and table games on the boat so travelers can gamble during the ride across the river and give even more money to the city.
It will be just like the good old days, back when Harrah’s and the Empress were boats that actually left the dock, with the added benefit of easing traffic woes. Everybody wins, except, of course, the gamblers.
• Joe Hosey is the editor of The Herald-News. You can reach him at 815-280-4094, at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JoeHosey.