An Illinois Economic Policy Institute (ILEPI) study released last week emphasizes the growing safety and congestion problems on a 16-mile stretch of I-80 in the northeastern part of the state that connects six of Will County’s municipalities and traverses four waterways.
For the study, ILEPI Transportation Policy Analyst Mary Craighead analyzed population and employment growth, traffic volumes, highway/bridge design, and accident patterns over the stretch of I-80 connecting Ridge Road and U.S. 30. She found that employment and population in the area are growing more than three times faster than the Chicagoland region as a whole. Much of this growth includes warehousing and distribution businesses, resulting in considerably more heavy truck traffic than comparable highways.
With this stretch of I-80 built in the 1960s, the ILEPI study highlights a range of safety concerns that will only become more acute as the region grows. For example, I-80 near Joliet has higher fatal and overall crash rates than neighboring stretches with even higher traffic volumes, in addition to 26% of its bridges being “structurally deficient” and 46% considered “functionally obsolete.”
The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) has recommended the Ridge Road/U.S. 30 corridor of I-80 near Joliet for a $1.45 billion modernization project, which the ILEPI study notes would produce nearly 10,000 new jobs and add almost $400 million to the local economy. While no long-term funding for the project has yet been identified, the Illinois Department of Transportation has committed over $90 million towards short-term repairs through 2020.