Will County looks for transportation answers
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY firstname.lastname@example.org August 21, 2014 1:42PM
Will County Executive Larry Walsh during the Will County Board monthly meeting at the Will County Office Building in Joliet, Illinois, Thursday, February 21, 2013. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 22, 2014 2:25AM
As its population and economy grows and Will County becomes a “major player in the global marketplace,” it faces many transportation challenges, County Executive Larry Walsh said Thursday in his State of the County address.
In tackling those challenges, the county must balance the concerns of residents with the needs of business and industry, which does not need to be “an either-or proposition,” he said.
Walsh said the county’s thriving intermodal centers, where cargo is transferred from train to truck and vice versa, has resulted in the “frustrations of traffic congestion” but also has brought “incredible benefits,” such as good-paying jobs.
Walsh outlined projects that he said will improve local traffic conditions and strengthen the county’s inland ports.
He said a priority project is the Houbolt bridge that would connect Interstate 80 from the Houbolt Road interchange directly south to the northern entrance of the intermodal facilities, he said, adding that the county is exploring ways to fund the project.
Progress continues on two “critical” infrastructure projects — the proposed Illiana tollway between Interstate 55 near Wilmington and Interstate 65 in northwest Indiana and the South Suburban Airport — both of which await federal approval and will serve the county’s transportation needs, he said.
Will County is “leading the effort” to coordinate land use, economic development and transportation with towns along the tollway route and will create a vision to “capture local benefit from the Illiana and future growth in the county,” Walsh said.
Next month, the Illinois Department of Transportation will host a forum in Will County with firms interested in marketing the South Suburban Airport.
“After many years of discussing the South Suburban Airport, we now see a plan to move that forward,” he said.
Walsh said two long-awaited road projects slated to be done next year are the reconstruction of Stuenkel Road in front of Governors State University from Governors Highway east to Crawford Avenue and the new interchange at I-55 and Weber Road. The county also is trying to fund a study of the development potential of the Illinois 394/Illinois 1 corridor in eastern Will County.
Walsh also cited the county’s effort to improve transportation options for senior citizens and disabled residents, using grant money to establish the Will Ride program to coordinate service to areas of the county that have no fixed bus routes. It now serves seven townships.
Next month, Walsh said he will present his annual budget, which will include a five-year capital spending plan.
“We must fund these projects now or risk falling behind,” he said.
Also, the county will update over the next two years its long-range 2040 transportation plan, which will prioritize highway projects, study freight movement and explore transit options for residents.
In his 30-minute speech, Walsh also touched on the county’s need for new facilities, specifically a new courthouse. This year, the county purchased two buildings in downtown Joliet, one of which could be a potential site for a courthouse once funding is secured.
Will County is “well-positioned to build on past success” and become an “even greater place to call home,” Walsh said.