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Will County adopts freight plan, seeks funding

Susan DeMar Lafferty, Contact Reporter Daily Southtown

As Will County officials recently adopted their "Community Friendly Freight Mobility" study, they hailed it as the "first of its kind" in this area, one that should create regional interest, and generate federal and state funds.

The purpose of the study is to understand freight movement, the future of freight movement, and its impact on the county, consultant Ann Schneider said.

Among the key findings in the plan were that freight is not only critical to the economic success of Will County, supporting 55 percent of its economy, but to the region and nation as well, since 63 percent of freight here is passing through.

The study will be used to seek federal and state funding, since the county's network of roads is critical to regional and national freight movement, Schneider said.

The value of the freight moving through Will County equals 97 percent of Gross Regional Product, 80 percent of Gross State Product, and 3.5 percent of the US Gross Product, according to the study.

Industrial space is projected to increase 61 percent over 10 years, and as the freight industry continues to grow, traffic on some state and U.S. highways is projected to triple by 2040.

Continued growth without planning and improving the infrastructure will have a negative impact on the county's economic competitiveness, quality of life and natural environments, the study found.

Will County should develop a land use plan to coordinate development with local partners, it said, noting that traditional planning methods can't handle the pace of freight development.

"These key findings will be eyebrow raisers when we compete for federal dollars," Schneider said, adding she will seek grants for the projects that are "most likely to succeed."

Only one county board member, Judy Ogalla, R-Monee, voted against the adoption of the freight study because it supported the development of the South Suburban Airport in her district.

Other board members disagreed with the federal data that indicated that much of Interstates 80 and 55 were congested for less than two hours a day.

"That federal data is completely wrong," said board member Ray Tuminello. "I would be surprised if we could travel the speed limit two hours a day."

Ogalla said the data should "reflect what we know — 80 and 55 are absolute nightmares.

We know for a fact that there is a definite problem," she said.

Board member Chuck Maher urged Schneider to get "a real idea of the numbers" before applying for grants.

In other action during its monthly board meeting, members:

•Agreed to contract with Martam Construction, of Elgin, for $359,500 to improve the drainage in the unincorporated Fairmont neighborhood in Lockport Township.

•Accepted a $52,846 Justice Assistance Grant, which it will share with the city of Joliet, and use it to expand the Safe Passage Program, which allows substance abusers to seek help at a local police station.

Twitter @SusanLaff

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