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Local News

Okon: Looking 99 years into the future

This was the scene in July 2016 when Mayor Bob O'Dekirk joined then-Gov. Bruce Rauner to announce the public-private partnership to build the Houbolt Road bridge. The construction date has been uncertain ever since.
This was the scene in July 2016 when Mayor Bob O'Dekirk joined then-Gov. Bruce Rauner to announce the public-private partnership to build the Houbolt Road bridge. The construction date has been uncertain ever since.

A lot is going on in town, and a 99-year agreement for a $160 million bridge has been kind of lost in the traffic.

But the lease agreement that sets terms for city ownership of the future Houbolt Road toll bridge goes to the Joliet City Council for a vote on Tuesday.

Not that again, you might say, if you have followed this issue. The lease agreement keeps getting pushed back since it was estimated to be done by December 2019.

It has been tabled from the last two City Council agendas for more fine tuning.

This time, I'm told, it's ready to go.

If so, construction should follow since the lease agreement supposedly has been the only obstacle to building the toll bridge over the Des Plaines River that is envisioned as a partial but important solution to semitrailer traffic on local roads. The bridge will connect CenterPoint Intermodal Center with Interstate 80.

The 160-page agreement is posted with the council agenda on the city website.

If you're staying inside from the 90-degree heat and avoiding COVID-19 possibilities during the Fourth of July weekend, you may want to spend some time going through it.

If nothing else, you will get a good idea why it's been so long coming.

Not only is it 160 pages, but it probably wasn't easy to complete an agreement designed to give the city ownership of the bridge while Houbolt Road Extension JV, the private partnership created by CenterPoint Properties to build, operate and maintain the bridge, pays for it – especially since Joliet gets to share in revenue from tolls and potential naming rights.

That's right – naming rights. Like the Slammers' lease agreement for the city-owned stadium, the lease agreement for the Houbolt Road bridge includes provisions for naming rights.

You may know that there's an ongoing tug-of-war between The Herald-News, the city and the Slammers over the secrecy that now surrounds the naming rights agreement for DuPage Medical Group Field, but let's move on from that.

Numerous provisions in the bridge agreement outline who pays and who doesn't for maintenance, repairs, and legal costs associated with lawsuits.

Whether there are any legal loopholes that could leave the city hanging, I am not qualified to say.

Assistant City Attorney Chris Regis, who has been chiefly responsible for handling the agreement for City Hall, has been reluctant to say much of anything about it to me while negotiating it with the city's future private partners.

Both Regis and CenterPoint representatives have said the completed agreement would be structured so the city would not bear the financial burdens of ownership.

Let's hope it takes 99 years to find out if they're right.

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