Joliet could be on the hook for a portion of Bridge project

Brock A. Stein | 9/22/2016, 5 a.m.
The City of Joliet could be on the hook for any expenses that go over budget for a planned new ...

The City of Joliet could be on the hook for any expenses that go over budget for a planned new Houbolt Bridge to be constructed over the Des Plaines River near the Center Point intermodal facility.

On Tuesday, the city council approved a memorandum of understanding between the major stakeholders of the project, which includes CenterPoint Properties, Will County, the State of Illinois and Joliet.

When the project was announced in July, Governor Bruce Rauner heralded the deal between CenterPoint and the state for its return on investment for state taxpayers.

Two press releases that were sent out by Will County and IDOT announcing the agreement in July did not mention the City of Joliet’s financial commitment at the time saying only, “The City of Joliet will work with IDOT to implement and oversee the improvements.”

Under the agreement, Center Point will pay for the engineering and construction of the bridge at a cost estimated to be between $155 to $175 million. That work will include the extension of Houbolt Road between U.S. 6 and Schweitzer over the river with a four-lane toll bridge.

IDOT has agreed to contribute up to $21 million for improvements north of U.S. 6, which will include construction of a diverging diamond interchange as well as intersection reconstruction at U.S. 6 and Houbolt, which will also include a new signal. Work will also include reconstruction of Houbolt from I-80 to U.S. 6 to a 5-lane roadway.

City Manager Jim Hock said that memorandum of understanding that was approved at Tuesday’s city council meeting was a “Precursor to a more detailed agreement” which he said would be approved by the council in October. Hock said that any shortfalls not covered by the state funding could be drawn from the city’s transportation funds, general fund as well as potential federal and state grants.

City council member Pat Mudron said that he didn’t like the idea of the city having to pay for any shortfalls in state funding.

“I don’t know that it’s fair to the citizens of Joliet to take money away from our road fund,” said Mudron, “who said the $21 million was enough?”

Hock said that the state received an engineer’s estimate for the project, which set the state’s cost at around $16 million plus another $2.1 million for phase 1 and 2 engineering. The city is able to apply for the engineering funds once the memorandum is approved.

If there are budget overruns, Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk said that the city could recoup its costs through a share of the tolls collected from the new bridge.

“It could run over, it may run over but we also made it clear to CenterPoint if that happens we expect to receive part of the toll to be compensated,” he said.

O’Dekirk said that Will County would set the toll price and that “the price of the toll and who gets what share hasn’t been determined.”

Matt Wells of the Midwest Trucker’s Association urged the city council on Monday not to approve the memorandum of understanding saying that the members he represents would ultimately pay for the cost of the improvements through added tolls, or size or weight restrictions in the future.

“It’s going to be paid for by the trucking companies that deliver everything to the park,” said Wells.