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Will County needs a freight plan

Chicago Tribune by Daily Southtown Editorial Board - June 9, 2017

Will County is the largest inland port in North America, according to the county's Center for Economic Development.

Between 2005 and 2015, freight-related industry in Will County grew by 138 percent, and the CED estimates that growth will continue at a similar pace.

At present, that means more than 3 million freight containers flow through the inland port each year in the form of trucks and freight trains. Ask some Will County residents and they'll tell you it seems like that many trucks roll past their front door every day.

There is no question that a huge amount of truck traffic rolls through Will County daily, congesting its roads and blocking its rail intersections. The result is maddening traffic congestion, crumbling roads and frustrated residents.

The other side of the coin is that those trucks and trains mean a booming transportation sector, growing employment and a promising future for the region's economy.

As a result we view the county's efforts to enact its "Community Friendly Freight Mobility Plan" as a vital step by the Will County Board, both to ensure the continued growth of its economy and to assure that the quality of life in the county is protected and improved.

The county board hopes to adopt and enact the freight mobility plan sometime this summer. The plan was designed under the direction of Ann Schneider, former Illinois transportation secretary and now a consultant on transportation issues in private practice. The county board executive committee narrowly approved a measure earlier this month recommending that the full county board offer Schneider a one-year contract to implement the freight plan and seek grant funding to pay for it.

The full board will have to decide whether to approve the contract, under which Schneider would be on a $7,500 monthly retainer, and would also provide for additional payments for work beyond 40 hours a week and for expenses. Some members of the executive committee thought the expense would be too great.

But regardless of whether Schneider is awarded the contract or someone else gets the job, the freight plan needs to be advanced. It will provide a plan for future road projects to accommodate the burgeoning truck traffic, to reduce the amount of truck traffic passing through residential neighborhoods, and to keep the county's road system from crumbling under its weight. Officials also hope the plan will help the county secure federal funding for infrastructure improvements, possibly including interstate highway improvements and related work on surface roads.

Growth of the freight industry in Will County has already outstripped the county's infrastructure, as anyone who lives or works in the county is well aware. We urge the county board to move forward as quickly as possible on this critical effort.

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