The Houbolt Road Extension project is finally under way in Illinois as freight movement and traffic flow improvement efforts become a main area of focus for state officials.
Joliet, a large intermodal hub based 45 miles southwest of Chicago, will house the 1.5-mile extension of Houbolt Road through its public-private partnership. The extension includes a Des Plaines River-spanning tolled bridge and would offer a highly-needed connection in the form of two lanes of traffic running between a variety of intermodal facilities and Interstate 80. These lanes, which would run in each direction, would aid the heavily-used freight route along I-80 reaching from San Francisco to Teaneck, New Jersey.
Because there is more of an ease to the truck traffic and a closer proximity to I-80 in Will County than in downtown Chicago, Joliet has become a common destination for intermodal traffic in recent years, explained Matt Hart, the Executive Director of the Illinois Trucking Association. The trucks that would utilize the bridge linking the Houbolt Road route would be able to easily reach State Route 53 or Arsenal Road via Interstate 55 through this extension.
“We have been encouraging additional capacity there for a long time,” explained Hart. “This will add to the capacity. It will allow trucks better access to this area. That being said, it’s also a bridge that is going to be paid for by tolls on trucks. So, it will provide more capacity, but it’s going to come at a price.”
The city of Joliet will monitor the state-committed $32 million that has been dedicated to the project and will collaborate in these expansion efforts alongside the Illinois Department of Transportation. Industrial real estate firm CenterPoint Properties has been commissioned to construct and operate the new bridge.
“Today we joined CenterPoint Properties, Will County, and the city of Joliet to break ground on the Houbolt Road Extension,” said the Illinois Department of Transportation in a tweet last week. “The P3 efforts leverages a $32 million state contribution for an overall improvement of nearly $200 million, furthering Governor Pritzker’s vision to fix and modernize I-80.”
The bridge’s toll rates have yet to be decided upon; many trucking firms will likely pass costs for the tolls down to their customers, although they may initially want to try and avoid the toll bridge itself.
“I think that every trucking company is going to do their best to avoid the toll, just because that makes economic sense,” said Hart. “At the end of the day, every truck that’s on the highway is there because consumers need something or want something, and the consumers and the marketplace will require that it be delivered at the most cost-effective means possible.”
Because the Houbolt extension project is bringing boosted capacity, ITA, which typically opposes tolls implemented into existing highways, has decided to remain neutral in this circumstance (which it often does in regards to tolls helping to increase capacity). Still, ITA believes that the most effective way to increase infrastructure capabilities is through traditional user fees like a fuel tax. These administrative costs are usually lower than tolling fees, Hart added.
“I think, in the long term, you will see more trucking companies use that bridge and they will build the price off that toll into the cost of goods,” he said.
Construction for the project, which is scheduled to be finished by the year 2023, will help to reconfigure the interchange between Houbolt Road and Interstate 80. The investment into these efforts comes from Governor Jay Pritzker’s Rebuild Illinois plan, which has been in place for the last couple of years and aims to help boost investment into bridge, transit, road, state park, education, historic state, and clean water infrastructure projects throughout the state.
“This project is just one of several major upgrades of I-80 in the coming years, thanks to the governor’s vision,” said Omer Osman, Secretary for Illinois Transportation. “The new bridge will link I-80 and the intermodal facilities in Will County, alleviate traffic congestion, make travel safer along a critical national corridor, and further strengthen the state’s economy.”
CenterPoint Intermodal Center is based in Joliet and its neighboring town of Elwood, and houses a large inland port and a main office space. According to Hart, many freight distribution centers and hubs have been making their homes throughout this Chicagoland location.