Towns Want Joliet Road Settlement Money Invested Locally
By Joe Sinopoli
La Grange, IL —
Now that a decade-old litigation case between Vulcan Materials in McCook and the state regarding the closure of Joliet Road has been reached, how will $40 million be used to reduce traffic congestion in the area?
As for the agreement reached May 18, Vulcan will pay the settlement into two equal parts, one expected within the week, the other payable upon receipt from Vulcan’s insurers. The second payment will be made in no longer than nine months.
Town meetings are being planned in the communities affected by the Joliet Road closure to gather input as to what can be done to remedy traffic problems.
Joliet Road, which bisected the Vulcan Materials quarry and served as a major east-west artery, was closed in 1998 after the land bridge on which it was situated was determined to be unstable. State engineers long suspected repeated blasting in the quarry affected the stability of the land bridge. The Illinois Department of Transportation filed suit against the quarrying company in 2001.
In a statement released by IDOT, Director Gary Hannig stated the money will be put in the state’s litigation settlement fund from where it will be drawn from to finance area road improvement projects. Requests to interview Hannig were denied.
IDOT will be exploring options concerning improvements to various arterial roads during the months ahead.
Vulcan spokesman Joshua Robbins said he, too, wants to put the issue behind him.
“This settlement avoided a trial. Our goal all along was to settle the matter,” Robbins said. “The $40 million presents an opportunity that can be invested in the community.”
While a settlement has been reached, Robbins fell short of calling the settlement an admission of guilt or blame for the conditions of the roadway that led to its condemnation.
“There were many factors identified over the years by the experts, there was never one conclusive factor for the road condition,” Robbins said. Keep the cash close
While many agree $40 million never would be enough to replace or reopen Joliet Road, it still remains a fair chunk of money, and area officials believe it should be spent here.
Countryside Mayor Robert Conrad said while he is not certain Joliet Road could ever be reopened, he is emphatic about where the money needs to be spent.
“The three communities affected the most are Countryside, Hodgkins and McCook. I’ve reached out to those other two communities and will try to get them together as a group to make sure the lion’s share is spent in Countryside, Hodgkins and McCook because we took the brunt of the traffic,” Conrad said.
He is very concerned about how and where the settlement money is being held. He added he did not know what the future holds for the now-closed Joliet Road.
“I would hate to see a one-mile stretch of Historic Route 66 disappear,” Conrad said. “Make it an observation area, a walking or bike path. I think we deserve that if nothing else. There’s not much of the old road left.”
Hodgkins Village Attorney John O’Connell said the settlement needs to be carefully studied. O’Connell added there needs to be some assessment of Joliet Road to determine whether it can be reopened.
Township of Lyons Supervisor Russell Hartigan favors reopening Joliet Road or building a bridge, but like other municipal officials in the area, also favors spreading the new -found wealth around.
“I think everyone is concerned about how the money is going to be distributed and I’m sure a lot of communities are going to be asking for a stake in the proceeds, including Lyons Township,” Hartigan said. “Obviously we’re going to be open to suggestions, and I’m interested in what IDOT has to say. I think everyone is just hoping that they are all sitting at the table.”
Their thoughts “Someone needs to look into whether or not it would be possible to reopen the road, although everything I have heard is that the road cannot be reopened as is. The only other possibility would be a bridge, but a bridge is likely to cost much more than $40 million, but we are not certain about that yet. If it cannot be reopened because of lack of funding, then we need to determine what else can be done in the area to relieve congestion around 55th Street and East Avenue.” U.S. Rep. Daniel Lipinski, D-3rd District, of Western Springs “The question is what type of traffic relief can you get for $40 million. I think we need to stay within that area or location. Let’s do what we can to make the traffic flow better in the area, first and foremost. I don’t want to see this turn into a $40 million pork fund. I don’t see why this money can’t be held in some kind of escrow.” State Rep. Jim Durkin, R-82nd District, of Western Springs
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