Interstate 80 near Joliet is a prime example of a roadway in desperate need of improvements. Built in the 1960s as an original portion of the interstate highway system, it is a crucial east-west corridor for both the Chicago region and the nation. However, inadequate infrastructure funding on both the state and federal levels has left travelers in the lurch, subjecting them to not only the inconvenience of congestion and an inefficient roadway, but also safety issues.
A project to enhance and expand a 16-mile stretch of I-80 near Joliet has been proposed, yet the needed funding is substantial and not available. As shown in the map below, the proposed project spans I-80 between Ridge Road and US 30. A new report by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute (ILEPI) explores the need behind this proposed project.
Proposed Project Location and Adjacent Municipalities
The project intersects six municipalities (Channahon, Joliet, Minooka, New Lenox, Rockdale, and Shorewood) and traverses four waterways, including the Des Plaines River. It currently has two lanes traveling in each direction – with limited portions having one additional lane – and several narrow bridges lacking shoulders. The roadway has several bends and turns requiring motorists to travel at a slower speed than is common on an interstate highway. And while traffic volumes are not as high as other interstates, approximately 20 percent of total traffic is comprised of heavy trucks.
While the existing design of the roadway is inconvenient for travelers, it can also pose as a safety issue, particularly as traffic volumes increase over time. The 16-mile stretch of I-80 near Joliet witnessed 37 fatal crashes between 2001 and 2016. When comparing to nearby interstates – I-80 near Tinley Park and I-57 near Matteson – crash rates remain below that of I-57, but are higher than those near Tinley Park. The table below summarizes fatal crash statistics for all three roadways.
Summary of Fatal Crashes on I-80 and I-57
Safety will continue to remain a primary concern in the future as the population and employment in the southwest suburbs continues to grow. Between 2000 and 2010 the populations in Minooka and Shorewood – two communities along the I-80 corridor – grew by 175% and 103%, respectively. Furthermore, Will and Kendall Counties are anticipated to grow by 76% and 100% by the year 2040.
As an example of such growth, the following figures illustrate the industrial and warehousing/distribution development surrounding the I-80 corridor in Joliet between 2001 and 2013. These land uses typically produce a large amount of trucks and additional traffic on interstate highways and should be of special interest when considering the needed I-80 improvements. Since 2001, the amount of land developed as industrial has clearly increased, particularly along the southern most portion of the maps.
Industrial and Warehousing/Distribution Development, 2001Industrial and Warehousing/Distribution Development, 2013**The technique used in taking the land use inventory changed after 2005, leading to slight differences in land use shapes
In the end, transportation is the backbone to the economy. Investments in reliable transportation systems are about improving our quality of life and our economic competitiveness. Without those investments, transportation systems will deteriorate, congestion will worsen, and residents and businesses will suffer.
As policymakers continue to debate new infrastructure funding solutions, roadways like I-80 should remain at the forefront of their minds. Countless crashes have occurred, lives have been lost, and – while it is far less significant – residents and businesses have suffered, and will continue to suffer, due to an inadequate and inefficient transportation system. It is important to remember: this roadway is only one example. Countless other projects across the state are equally as important, yet the same issue – inadequate funding – will continue to plague communities until changes are made.