October 13, 2017, 11:48pm
Will County officials wasted no time in presenting their Community Friendly Freight Mobility Plan to legislators in Washington D.C., in hopes of securing funds for road improvements.
According to the study, freight is not only critical to the county's economy, but that of the region, since 63 percent of freight passes through the county.
Among those going to the Capitol were county board members Herb Brooks Jr., D-Joliet, and Mike Fricilone, R-Homer Glen, with John Greuling, CEO of the Will County Center for Economic Development and Ann Schneider, the consultant who drafted the study.
The county is hoping to secure a $15 million TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant to help finance its share of the Weber Road interchange project, which is $45 million.
Fricilone said USDOT officials also encouraged them to apply for INFRA grants (Infrastructure for Rebuilding America) even though their projects were not ready for funds this year, it would better prepare them for next year's round of applications.
Adding more weight to the freight study, was the fact that on the day of their visit, Sept. 26, there was a horrific crash on Interstate 80 in Joliet, which claimed two lives.
The "unfortunate" accident underscored the urgent need to address these transportation issues, Brooks said.
The plan calls for improvements to I-80 and Interstate 55, as well as connecting roads and bridges.
It noted that the existing infrastructure cannot handle what is already occurring and will worsen without strategic investment, and state and federal money.
Fricilone said they met with the staffs of 13 to 15 legislators and the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The DOT was "very receptive" not only to the information on transportation, but also about how the movement of the workforce relates to transportation, he said.
They met informally with U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., who also was supportive, officials said.
Brooks said Greuling and Schneider did a "very good job of representing Will County," and federal officials seemed very interested in the county, based on the questions they asked.
Board Speaker Jim Moustis, R-Frankfort Township, said since the freight study goes beyond transportation issues and discusses impacts on the communities, he would like to do presentations in the towns.
"We called this a freight friendly study because we want to lessen the impacts the best we could on the communities," he said.
The study represents all interests — commerce and citizens — and the county has to "find a balance" for everyone, Moustis said.
While waiting for grant money for big projects, the county can move forward with other parts of the plan, such as working with municipalities to establish designated truck routes, he said.
"There is work to be done," he said. "There are many small things we can do that have an impact. That's our job — to move that part of study forward."
"This can't sit on a shelf," said board member Chuck Maher, R-Naperville regarding the freight study.