IDOT Director: State Has Joliet Area ‘Surrounded’

IDOT-Omer-Osman

By Nick Reiher

In delineating myriad road projects going on or planned for the area, state transportation Secretary Omer Osman said they have the Joliet area “surrounded, but in a good way.”

Speaking before the Joliet Regional Chamber of Commerce March 20, Osman noted most of the projects underway are as a result of the $45 billion Capital Plan – funded in part with a 19-cent-per gallon gas tax hike.

That includes $1.2 billion for widening Interstate 80 from Ridge Road to Cherry Hill Road, and replacing several interchanges and the bridges over the Des Plaines River, which estimated to cost $300 million alone.

He expects most of the work to be substantially complete by the end of 2028. A little after that, preliminary work will begin on a new interchange at Interstate 55 and Airport Road.

Work also continues to make a full interchange at I-55 and Illinois 59, Osman said, and plans are in the works for a new interchange at I-55 and Lorenzo Road.

Renovations on bridges over the Des Plaines River through Joliet also will continue, he said. That work includes making them capable of being operated remotely, rather than having a bridgetender.

Following his prepared comments, Farmers Weekly Review asked Osman about the status of work ordered by the Legislature to prepare RFQs for potential developers of the South Suburban Airport in the Peotone-Monee area.

State Rep. Will Davis, D-Homewood, a year ago introduced an amendment to an existing airport development bill requiring the Illinois Department of Transportation to, within six months of adopting the bill, establish a process for prequalification of parties interested in developing a cargo airport.

Davis’ House Bill 2531 noted such a development would include both multimodal modes of freight transportation and centers of employment in logistics and manufacturing businesses, according to the amendment in Davis’ House Bill 2531.

Osman responded that the RFQ has many parts, and state officials have been working on it in advance of its deadline to submit it to potential developers by the end of June.

“Then, we’ll see who’s interested,” he said. “We need that investment to be modern and innovative.”

Will County Board Chairman Judy Ogalla, R-Monee, a longtime opponent of the airport, is concerned about what happens if there is no interest. She wondered if it would go back to farmland, but Davis said the land could be used for other types of development.

The South Suburban Airport Act, which became law more than a decade ago, established that the state may develop a prequalification process, the release states. However, steps were not taken to begin to prequalification process. Senators from the South Suburban Corridor believe this initiative will jump-start the process.

In April 2017, Randy Blankenhorn, then Illinois Transportation Secretary, told a group of Will County business leaders six parties have shown interest in developing the long-discussed South Suburban Airport.

The state, which had purchased Bult Field at the center of the SSA the year before, wanted to see plans for a general aviation airport with a cargo component to handle the county’s growing logistics enterprises, comprising the largest inland port in North America.

What the state heard back was crickets. And the airport plan, discussed in various ways and with various sites for more than three decades, was dormant once more.

That meant Bult Field, purchased by the state for $34.5 million in 2016 was not developed, and much of the land in the immediate footprint of the proposed airport expansion, has been leased back to farmers and other owners since the state has continued to purchase property.

IDOT offers a link on the airport site, https://www.southsuburbanairport.com/SSA-home.htm, for those interested in renting land from them.

The airport website shows the state had paid more than $97 million to purchase around 4,500 acres of land in the project footprint, bordered by Monee, University Park and Crete on the north, and Peotone and Beecher on the south.

“With all the logistics in the area, a cargo airport makes a lot of sense,” said Davis when introducing the bill. His 30th House District lay some five miles north of the SSA’s footprint in the Peotone-Monee area.

But he added the state has held up the residents around the proposed area too long. And they deserve an answer one way or another if any private party is interested in developing a cargo airport.

If there is suitable interest, Davis and others said there would need to be infrastructure improvements leading to the airport. Already, the state has set aside funds for a new interchange on Interstate 57, initially at Eagle Lake Road, just north of the Peotone weigh stations.

Nick Reiher is editor of Farmers Weekly Review.

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