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Seeking safe solutions for I-80

Town hall focuses on interstate troubles

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Mary Craighead (left) presents her "I-80 Corridor Analysis" at a community town hall meeting attended by state Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn (right) at the University of St. Francis on Thursday.[]

JOLIET – Bob Bannon called it “a crap shoot” getting onto Interstate 80 at three local interchanges.

“It’s a shock when you don’t get hit,” the Crest Hill resident said Thursday at a community town hall meeting called to seek answer’s to the area’s I-80 problem.

Thirty-seven people died driving the 16-mile stretch of I-80 that passes through Joliet between 2001 and 2016, according to a study presented at the meeting.

Lower speed limits and warning signs were two short-term suggestions made at the meeting hosted by the new Residents United for Safer Highways at the University of St. Francis.

“I think those are potential options here,” said Illinois Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn, one of four speakers at the meeting.

Blankenhorn, however, did not promise any short-term fixes.

Even long-term solutions would be a challenge, he said, although he did acknowledge the urgency in the Joliet area.

“The state of Illinois understands that we do have issues here,” Blankenhorn said. “We need to find solutions sooner rather than later.”

Blankenhorn said he would instruct state transportation engineers to look at suggestions raised at the meeting and come back with responses in months rather than years.

“Engineering does take time,” he noted.

One long-term solution suggested by Scott Slocum, the WJOL-AM morning radio personality who hosted the meeting, was making I-80 a toll road to raise money for new interchanges and more lanes.

The cost of IDOT’s plan for more lanes, improved interchanges and new bridges along the 16-mile stretch of I-80 running from U.S. 30 in New Lenox to Ridge Road in Minooka is more than $1 billion.

“Would the toll authority be willing to take I-80 off of IDOT’s hands?” Slocum asked Kevin Artl, chief operating officer of the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority, another of the four speakers.

Artl said the toll authority and IDOT are doing a study that looks at just that possibility not only in Will County but throughout the state, as the state looks for ways to fund road improvements needed everywhere.

He acknowledged “some huge transportation problems” in Will County.

Artl said the combination of
explosive growth in Will County at a time of declining highway funding is a problem, “We really don’t face anywhere else in the seven-county (Chicago) region.”

Mary Craighead, author of the study presented at the meeting, also pointed to the combination as a unique issue for Will County.

Craighead is the transportation policy analyst at the Illinois Economic Policy Institute.

According to her “I-80 Corridor Analysis,” the 37 fatal crashes between 2001 and 2016 included 12 fatalities since 2010.

The study, however, also states that the fatality rate in the 16-mile stretch running through Joliet “has not experienced an exceptionally high number of fatal crashes compared to other roadways.”

A stretch of Interstate 57 between 183rd Street and Sauk Trail has a higher fatality rate a mile, the study showed.

But Craighead said an “alarming” growth rate in Will County along with more semitrailers from rapid warehouse development poses a growing problem in years to come.

“Where are we going to be in the future,” she asked, “if improvements aren’t made to I-80?”