Public/Private Partners Celebrate Houbolt Road Bridge

Representatives of CenterPoint Properties and United Bridge Partners celebrate the completion of the new Houbolt Road Corridor, which allows trucks to enter the intermodal yards to the south with a new $14o million .4-mile bridge.
Representatives of CenterPoint Properties and United Bridge Partners celebrate the completion of the new Houbolt Road Corridor, which allows trucks to enter the intermodal yards to the south with a new $14o million .4-mile bridge.

By Nick Reiher

he $140 million, .4-mile bridge is the linchpin of the new Houbolt Road Corridor. (Rendering courtesy of United Bridge Partners)

Although there have been other celebrations for the new Houbolt Road extension from Interstate 80 to the intermodal yards to the south, CenterPoint Properties’ Chief Development Officer Michael Murphy wanted an opportunity to focus on the linchpin of the route – the .4-mile bridge spanning the Des Plaines River – and the people key to that achievement.

That led to a November 28 ribbon cutting at the Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, a few miles away from the bridge, but smack in the middle of the Union Pacific intermodal Yard.

And out of the cold, Murphy noted to the partner representatives gathered, including those from United Bridge Partners, the aptly named group selected by CenterPoint after a nationwide search.

“We felt they were a good fit for the project,” Murphy said.

Together, they formed the HRE Joint Venture, responsible for the long-term operations and maintenance including tolling, collections, and sending shares back to its other partners, the City of Joliet and Will County.

Murphy noted Will County recently received its first check, but Joliet Mayor Terry D’Arcy said they hadn’t seen theirs yet.
More should be coming in, especially now that the new interchange at Houbolt and I-80 is open. While the bridge was open in April, the work at the interchange and the road extension to Route 6 wasn’t complete until October.

Since the bridge opened, Murphy said, about 7,000 vehicles a day have used it, mostly trucks. But he and others who have traveled the route are surprised how many cars are using it as a way to avoid traffic on Interstate 55.

Peter Raketic of UBP isn’t surprised. The shortcut that shaves miles and time by using the Houbolt Road Corridor works for commuters as well as truckers.

“We’re rapidly approaching 1 million vehicles that have used the bridge,” Raketic said. “We’ve gotten good feedback from a lot of people. And with the interchange and the road open, there is a free flow from I-80 and I-55.”

The bridge has a tollbooth where drivers of trucks pay $8 per trip, and drivers of cars pay $2 with I-PASS. No exceptions, as the son of state Rep. Larry Walsh Jr. learned when he crossed without a transponder, his Dad told the group.

Walsh, D-Elwood, remembered a 2018 meeting in Elwood, where his neighbors were skeptical the bridge ever would be built.
“But we did,” he said.

Walsh also remembers being at an informal gathering in 2007 with his Dad, the late County Executive Larry Walsh Sr., and Murphy, when they first discussed the possibility of a bridge across the Des Plaines River over a few Pabst Blue Ribbons in the Walsh’s barn.

And couldn’t that bridge be tied into the underused Houbolt Road interchange with I-80, Murphy added.

Since that time and until his death in June 2020, Walsh Sr. was a driving force in keeping the momentum for the bridge going, Murphy told the gathering of partners at the Autobahn. And he thanked the other partners, including UBP, the Illinois Department of Transportation, city of Joliet, Will County, the BNSF – which runs the intermodal in Elwood just to the south, and the Union Pacific.

While the $140 million bridge was built by members of Local 150 with private funds by UBP and CenterPoint, Murphy said it was critical that IDOT came up with $32 million to improve the interchange and I-80, and worked with the city on the widening of Houbolt Road to Route 6 and the bridge.

County Executive Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant said she and D’Arcy noted they were the latecomers to the project. But they agreed the entire Houbolt Road corridor is a great example of how a public, private partnership can cooperate on a project critical to keeping the county a strong economic engine for the state.

The idea behind the Houbolt Road corridor was to keep trucks necessary to the local, national and global economy off local roads, Murphy said, especially in Joliet and Channahon.

In the relatively short amount of time the corridor and bridge have been open, Murphy said, “we’re already seeing the results … locally and all around the country.”

But Murphy was asked later about CenterPoint’s lawsuit against NorthPoint, which wants to use the former’s routes from I-55 and I-80 as part of its “closed loop” plan to service 30 million square feet of new warehouses on the east side of Illinois 53.

Murphy said he could not comment on continuing litigation, but he couldn’t help wondering how NorthPoint would be allowed to capitalize on the investment in infrastructure CenterPoint and all its partners have put in.
Still, he said, “we will be working toward a solution.”

Murphy added that 97 percent of the Houbolt Road project is complete, but they will be working next year toward adding traffic control lights at Schweitzer and Houbolt, and at Schweitzer and the entrance to the UP yard.

Joliet and Channahon also are working with the state on putting together a Phase 1 engineering study on widening Route 6 from I-55 to Houbolt Road.

Channahon Mayor Missey Schumacher said after the ceremony that IDOT did a study in 2001, “so they know widening is necessary there.”

But now it’s a matter of doing a new study and figuring out who will pay what portion, she said.

“Honestly, I’m surprised the bridge hasn’t had more of an effect on Route 6 traffic already,” Schumacher said.
Nick Reiher is editor of Farmers Weekly Review.

While the Houbolt Road Corridor is pretty much complete, Channahon Mayor Missey Schumacher, Channahon Village Administrator Tom Durkin, and Joliet Mayor Terry D’Arcy are working with the state to begin a Phase 1 engineering study to widen Route 6 from I-55 to Houbolt Road.

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