Faced with a shortage of infrastructure capital and a big employer that needs help, the state of Illinois is moving into the private toll bridge business.
In a rather unique twist today, Gov. Bruce Rauner announced a deal under which CenterPoint Properties will build a $170 million to $190 million private toll bridge linking Interstate 80 and its huge multimodal facility in Will County.
Rauner said the first-of-its kind deal, a variation on the public/private partnership model, will alleviate traffic congestion on local roadsthat weren't built to handle fleets of 18-wheelers while strengthening the local economy.
"This project is long overdue and will only enhance the region's position as a freight hub for North America and an economic engine for the state," Rauner said in a statement. "Illinois needs more projects just like these creative solutions to fund infrastructure."
Under the deal, which Rauner said has the backing of the city of Joliet and Will County, but won't need General Assembly sign-off, CenterPoint would be authorized to build and operate a new toll bridge on Houbolt Road over the Des Plaines River and the BNSF tracks.
The Illinois Department of Transportation will contribute $21 million to the project to widen Houbolt and reconfigure its interchange with I-80. When complete, the project will provide two lanes of traffic in each direction from I-80 to CenterPoint's land, serving an estimated 11,000 vehicles a day and rising.
Construction could begin next year, with the bridge opening to traffic in late 2018 or early 2019.
The new deal could serve as a model for other distribution centers being proposed at the southwestern edge of the metropolitan area.
One bit of initial positive reaction came from U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, whose district is near the CenterPoint site and who specializes in transportation work in Congress.
“I've said from the beginning that this is a private enterprise,” Lipinski said, referring CenterPoint and the impact it has had on the Joliet area. “They need to be part of the solution rather than putting this all on taxpayers, and it looks like they are.”
Update 12:45 p.m.—More reaction, positive reaction, is coming from Peter Skosey, executive vice president of the Metropolitan Planning Council.
Skosey termed the plan “an interesting model for financing road improvements in the future. Without more dedicated capital dollars from gas tax and other sources, tolls offer a great way to target the financing to the project being accomplished."
And Rauner, in comments at the event, said he hopes to move on a big state capital bill “as soon as we have a balanced budget in place.” Said the guv: “We can grow our economy by investing in our infrastructure.”
While truckers won't like paying tolls, CenterPoint will be “very incented” to keep rates reasonable so that its facility gets as much business as possible, Rauner added.