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Will County goes to Washington

Updated: June 15, 2014 6:43AM



Transportation issues were among many items on Will County’s agenda when 10 county officials traveled to Washington, D.C., last month during National County Government Month.

“Our primary goal was to educate congressional members and their staffs about Will County and reinforce our issues,” Nick Palmer, chief of staff for County Executive Larry Walsh, said in his report to the county board’s legislative committee this week. “We let them know we are a fast-growing county and will work with them on a regional basis.”

Two full days of meetings with U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk, six local congressmen and four federal agencies was a “valuable” experience, he said.

“There is more interest in Will County now than there used to be. They recognize us as a player in the region,” Palmer said. “Our unique location makes us an economic player.”

Will County is home to three major highways, several railroads, inland waterways and two major intermodal facilities, making it a hub in the national transportation network, county officials said.

The county continues to increase the amount of crop exports through its transportation network, shipping roughly 110 million bushels in 2013, mostly corn and soybeans, Palmer said.

He said much of that goes through the intermodal yards, where cargo is transferred between trucks and trains, increasingly for global markets, but the yards and their heavy truck traffic “create a burden” on the county’s infrastructure.

One of the infrastructure priorities is to construct a bridge on Houbolt Road over the Des Plaines River to alleviate truck traffic on Illinois 53 and provide quicker access to Interstate 80, he said. While there is a “lot of interest” in the proposed bridge, it’s “several years” away, Palmer said, and county officials are eying federal grants and loans to assist with the project.

The Federal Highway Administration is “very interested” in the proposed Illiana Expressway, a 47-mile tollway to connect I-55 near Wilmington to I-65 near Lowell, Ind., which is expected to be a major truck route, he said.

The county also continues to promote the South Suburban Airport near Peotone and to seek federal funds to widen Laraway Road from two to four lanes from Illinois 53 to Harlem Avenue, according to its federal agenda.

In other issues, the Will County delegation sought to lift restrictions on the Prairie View Landfill, a 455-acre site that was deeded to the county for 23 years in 1999 when the federal government decommissioned the Joliet Arsenal land on Illinois 53 in Elwood.

County officials estimated that the landfill will have one to two million tons of capacity at the end of 23 years, and they would like to continue operating it until it is full.

In meetings with Justice Department officials, the Will County contingent learned that assistance is available for the county’s heroin prevention program.

The county agenda also included discussion on improving workforce programs, supporting the Water Resources Development Act to address flooding issues and the Marketplace Fairness Act to recoup sales tax revenue from online retailers.

Accompanying Palmer to Washington were county board chief of staff Bruce Friefeld; board Speaker Herbert Brooks, D-Plainfield; board members Diane Zigrossi, D-Crest Hill; Bob Howard, D-Beecher; Suzanne Hart, R-Naperville; Chuck Maher, R-Naperville; Don Moran, D-Romeoville; Don Gould, R-Shorewood, who also serves as chairman of the county forest preserve district board, and the district director, Marcy DeMauro.



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