Will County, Ill., Surveys Residents on Long-Range Transportation Plan

In updating its 2030 plan, the county is looking at all forms of transportation — roads, bus, rail, bicycle, trucks and pedestrian — and will identify priorities as it finalizes the plan over the next few months.

by Susan DeMar Lafferty, The Daily Southtown, Tinley Park, Ill. / February 1, 2016

(TNS) -- When it comes to planning future transportation needs, Will County residents offered a wide range of suggestions, from horses to self-driving cars.

In its second round of five open houses, which ended Thursday in New Lenox, more than 200 people gave their opinions on what the county should do to improve traffic flow and mobility. The public can still weigh in on future transportation issues through April 14 by participating in an online survey at www.WillConnects2040.org.

All input will be compiled into a final plan, which will be presented in public hearings this summer before it is approved by the county board.

In updating its 2030 plan, the county is looking at all forms of transportation — roads, bus, rail, bicycle, trucks and pedestrian — and will identify priorities as it finalizes the plan over the next few months.

Maps depicted several scenarios and options, such as wider interstates and local roads, new bridges and bike trails, expanded commuter rail and bus service.

"There's a lot to look at here," said Manhattan Township Road Commissioner Jim Baltas, who wanted to digest it all before forming opinions.

The often-discussed Houbolt bridge linking Interstate 80 directly to the intermodal centers in Joliet and Elwood, "would take so much congestion off the roads," he said. "Any way you look at it, the intermodals are here to stay. We have to improve the roads" to accommodate that traffic.

Frankfort Mayor Jim Holland and Harry Cook of New Lenox Township both wanted to widen Laraway Road, which was clearly noted on the maps.

"If there's no Illiana (toll road) we have to do something to move trucks," Holland said. Also on his list of priorities were bike trails, better paratransit service and an improved Harlem Avenue from Steger to Stuenkel Road, to accommodate that new interchange at Interstate 57 and Stuenkel — all projects that he realizes could be 10 years away.

"Laraway should be taken care of first," said Cook, who now finds it difficult to make a left turn onto Laraway from his residential street.

Some residents were surprised to see the Illiana toll road still on future maps — connecting Interstate 55 in Wilmington to Interstate 65 in Lowell, Indiana — believing that the state killed that controversial project in southern Will County.

"We still have to plan for its potential," said Christina Kupkowski, project manager for the 2040 plan at the Will County Division of Transportation. The county's final version of its 2040 plan will likely include two scenarios — with and without the Illiana, she said. "It's not our project, but we have to plan around it."

And planning around it meant not only widening Laraway Road, but also Wilmington-Peotone Road, I-80 and I-55, and building the Houbolt bridge. The maps showed no improvements to Route 53, which has become a heavy truck route to the intermodals.

Participants completed a survey, weighing their options and prioritized their needs based on a limited budget. They were given 10 $10 stickers to "spend" on a variety of transit options. Most put their money on expansion of existing roads, preserving roads and bridges, improving commuter rail service and bike connections.

In weighing future transportation options, the county has to consider what will improve safety and stimulate the economy, said Joe Delreal of Shorewood, who spent money on "optimizing operations."

"We need smarter highways, not bigger highways," he said, adding that better signals would keep traffic moving.

Traffic signals that "talk" to each other and roads for self-driving cars are "not far-fetched," Kupkowski said, after hearing one participant insist that travel infrastructure will have to change in the next 20 years to accommodate such technology.

Discussions on such topics are "in their infancy," she said.

Despite the futuristic talk, Sue Curtis, a 40-year resident of Lockport Township, was there to promote more horse trails. That was not one of the spending options, so she wrote it in and placed $80 of her $100 on it.

"The horse industry is a viable economic business that is growing," she said, estimating that there are 1,000 horses in her area.

Others wanted to see more sidewalks and railroad overpasses in the New Lenox area.

For Carl Bebrich, transportation planning should be about improving the quality of life in Will County.

"I'm all in favor of planning, but a lot of projects are short-sighted," he said.

He was opposed to the Caton Farm/Bruce Road connection — currently a contentious issue in Lockport and Homer Townships — that was not included on the map because it is not a Will County project, but a state project.

"It will exacerbate problems, not alleviate them, and it would destroy the (unincorporated) Fairmont community," Bebrich said. As an alternative, he suggested extending 159th Street "straight across" the river, with a wider bridge, or making the connection at Route 6 instead of Bruce Road and Oak Avenue in Fairmont.

"We need to look at preserving agricultural land. You cannot replace that. So much has been eaten up by the county's expansion," he said, adding that it all comes down to, "What do we want Will County to look like in 2040?"

©2016 The Daily Southtown (Tinley Park, Ill.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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