JOLIET – Bridgework on Interstate 55 near Channahon – marred with seven fatalities and more than 100 accidents over the course of two construction seasons – will likely wrap up next week.
Illinois Department of Transportation crews could complete repairs as early as next week, but the reopening of lanes won’t start until the week of Aug. 25, state Rep. Larry Walsh Jr., D-Elwood, said Tuesday.
Labor Day is still considered the target completion date, but IDOT officials are working to complete the work “as soon as possible” and reopen lanes prior to the holiday weekend, IDOT spokeswoman Paris Ervin said in an email.
Northbound lanes will likely reopen first, Walsh Jr. said, while southbound lanes will take a little longer because cement barriers have to be removed.
The $7.65 million construction project called for repairs to the twin 58-year-old truss bridges’ pier, abutment and structural steel, along with new decks and a paint job.
News of the bridge construction nearing completion comes just three weeks after five people, including two from the area, died as a result of a July 21 collision involving a semitrailer in the I-55 construction zone. Last year, sudden backups resulted in 172 crashes and two fatalities between July and November. A second collision that same day resulted in the death of a sixth man.
I-55 over the Des Plaines River Bridge has been plagued with major traffic congestion during the past two construction seasons, but last month’s fatal-chain reaction crash brought the issue back to the forefront.
Elwood Police Chief Fred Hayes said in an email statement Tuesday he was “encouraged” by the near-completion of the I-55 construction, while noting much more needs to be done to reduce the number of trucks along Route 53 through Elwood – a route often used by semitrailers as an alternative to I-55.
Walsh Jr. first announced I-55 construction is nearing completion during a news conference Tuesday at CenterPoint Properties’ Joliet location. Alongside him were U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, Will County Executive Larry Walsh Sr., and Eric Gilbert, senior vice president of CenterPoint Properties.
‘Just the beginning
The focal point of Tuesday’s news conference with Durbin was to highlight CenterPoint Properties’ desire to build out and fully develop two adjacent industrial parks in the coming years.
Durbin spoke of CenterPoint’s importance to the area’s economy, touting 8,000 permanent jobs and thousands of other construction jobs that resulted from the development of both intermodals.
“Location. Location. Location. We are smack-dab in the middle of the United States, right near the Great Lakes, with all the rail transportation that follows and all the interstate highways,” Durbin said. “We can’t let it end here. Our obligation now is to continue to build the infrastructure that serves this area ... This is just the beginning of CenterPoint.”
A little more than half of CenterPoint’s 6,400 acres across both intermodals have been built out, Gilbert said. That equates to roughly 14 to 15 million square feet of facilities, he said.
“We believe we could double that upwards to 28, 30 million in the next 15 years,” Gilbert said.