Annabelle Andrews may be receiving a 25th birthday from the state, and many New Lenox residents will be celebrating.
Three years ago, during a state-of-the-village speech, New Lenox Mayor Tim Baldermann said that the Will County stretch of Interstate 80 was so bad, he wouldn’t let his 16-year-old step-daughter drive on it.
Numerous accidents and a bridge spanning the DesPlaines River deemed unsafe by experts has caused the mayor to publicly call it “a death trap” in the past.
“It’s such a brutal, brutal stretch of road,” he said.
That’s about to change.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker stopped in New Lenox last month to announce a six-year plan costing $1.2 billion to rebuild 16 miles of that "brutal, brutal stretch of road," the Will County portion of the highway.
"These overdue improvements will not only make it safer for commercial drivers, but for the thousands of families who rely on I-80 to commute to work, drive their kids to school and move safely through their daily lives," Pritzker said during a news conference at the New Lenox branch of the Illinois Department of Transportation. "While this project is ambitious in scale, it has also been designed to minimize its impact on the residents that live along the highway.
“New pedestrian and bicyclist paths will help keep communities better connected, and eight miles of noise walls will help keep surrounding neighborhoods insulated from noisy traffic."
If the timeline is correct, the mayor said he will give his blessing to Annabelle to drive on it. She will be 25.
Baldermann is pleased with what he has heard.
“It’s awfully ambitious,” he said. “I don’t understand the timeline. It’s sure a lot shorter than everything we’ve heard. If that’s the case, that’s outstanding.”
Baldermann said many residents try to avoid the highway.
“People are not exaggerating and they are not being dramatic when they say they feel like they are taking their lives in their hands when they go out there,” he said.
There is lot of work to be done and six years seems like a long time, but the mayor said the result will be worth it.
He also see the project enhancing his village.
“We’re continuing to develop on the west side of our town,” he said. “It’s been easier to develop and redevelop on the east side. Now we’re starting to see a lot of redevelopment on the west side so with our portion of 80 being finished, I just think it’s going to be so much easier for the town from a development standpoint because that’s where our exit is.”
He added that drivers will be able to travel more safely whether they are from New Lenox, California or New Jersey, other stops on the cross-country interstate.
State officials say that I-80 through the Joliet and Will County area carries approximately 80,000 vehicles a day, about 25% of which are trucks. They add that due to the outdated design and capacity restraints, congestion as well as frequent merging and weaving are common, causing accidents.
Starting next year, the section from Ridge Road to the DuPage River will be under construction as land acquisition progresses, and final engineering is completed on the replacement of the DesPlaines River bridges.
Improvements will begin from Ridge Road to U.S. 30 in 2023, leaving construction of the DesPlaines River bridges and Center Street and U.S. 52/Illinois 53 interchanges in 2026 and 2027.
But there will be six years of inconvenience for drivers on this stretch of the road, as well as expected backups and detours.
New Lenox has a taste of the construction woes now, with the improvement being made on U.S. 30 ramps to I-80 serving as a preview.
“Our portion of that has been under construction already,” Baldermann said. “It’s been going on the last two years. The on-ramp for eastbound 80 is really dangerous while it’s under construction because there is such a short ramp to get on I-80, and there are a lot of trucks.
“But you can’t complain about wanting roads fixed and complain while they are working on them. There are certainly going to be some headaches for the years that this is under construction. In the long run, it will be worth it because it’s so desperately needed.”