JOLIET — As Will County grows as “a major player in the global marketplace,” transportation remains one of the area's greatest assets — and one of its greatest challenges, County Executive Larry Walsh said Thursday.
“A massive increase in global trade has increased freight traffic in Will County, has brought new economic opportunities and, at the same time, created some local infrastructure challenges,” Walsh told members of the Will County Board during Thursday's annual State of the County address.
“Our residents have experienced the frustrations of traffic congestion," he added "But we must remember the incredible benefits of this growth, including more jobs and more consumers in Will County.”
The county is on track to become the second most populated in Illinois, second only to Cook County, Walsh said. “Only by taking a proactive approach” will the county manage the challenges that lie ahead.
Will County currently is the fourth largest county in Illinois with a 2010 Census count of nearly 678,000. Second largest is DuPage County with nearly 917,000 people.
To tackle traffic congestion on local roads, Walsh pointed to a proposed high-level bridge connecting Interstate 80 from the Houbolt Road exit to the intermodals in Juliet and Elwood.
The project would offer semitrailers a more direct route into the CenterPoint Properties' two intermodal yards, streamline the movement of freight, and encourage job creation, he said. It would also ease traffic elsewhere in the county, he said.
Funding remains an issue, but Walsh said county officials are open to exploring ways to construct and finance the bridge.
The “long awaited” Weber Road and Interstate 55 interchange improvements will move forward, he said. That should reduce congestion for those who live, work or shop in the Weber Road corridor between 135th and 119th streets, he said.
The project cost is estimated at $90 million, with Bolingbrook, Romeoville, Will County and state transportation officials sharing the expense.
To help prioritize transportation projects, the county plans to update within the next two years its long-range 2040 transportation plan, he said.
Progress also continues on the Illiana Expressway and the South Suburban Airport — two major projects that would help the county's future growth, Walsh said. Federal approval for the Illiana is expected by the end of this year, he said.
“Critical projects like the Illiana Expressway and the South Suburban Airport have potential to expand Will County's transportation footprint,” Walsh said. “Due to this potential, the county is preparing now for future growth and development.”
Will County Board Speaker Herbert Brooks, D-Joliet, was pleased to hear Walsh addressing the area's “traffic woes” head-on as the county evolves in the global marketplace.
“I'm glad you're being proactive,” Brooks told Walsh during the county board meeting.
Will County Board Republican Chairman Jim Moustis said he was encouraged by Walsh's State of the County address.
“I think with determination and cooperation, we will see many great things happen in Will County,” Moustis said.
Walsh is scheduled to present the county's annual budget next month.