By MARY BASKERVILLE
CHICAGO TRIBUNE | FEB 26, 2021 AT 1:12 PM
The path of Illinois Route 53 in Elwood, just south of Joliet, is bucolic. Running along the east side of the road, travelers spot bison grazing at the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.
Farm fields and open space grace historic Route 66 as it moves through Will County. It is the road traveled by thousands of veterans to their final resting place at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery, the country’s second largest national cemetery.
Already feeling the impact of semi-trucks from the nearby CenterPoint Intermodal Center, anchored by the BNSF Railway’s Logistics Park and the Union Pacific Joliet Intermodal Terminal, residents of the area know that the region is now newly threatened by the proposal for NorthPoint Development’s massive warehousing and distribution development. The city of Joliet’s recent annexation of land could permanently alter the landscape and create even more regional gridlock.
Residents of the area are not opposed to change or development, but they are strongly united in opposition to a project that will overburden infrastructure that cannot bear the impact of NorthPoint’s thousands of additional semis and shift-change traffic.
Residents are opposed to industrial sprawl moving out of the already zoned and developed intermodal yards that make Joliet the largest inland port in America. They are opposed to continued gridlock and diesel pollution that already exceeds healthy bounds. And jobs that do not provide insurance or a living wage for warehouse workers are not seen as a benefit for the region or its people.
The closed loop that NorthPoint proposes hinges on a yet-to-be-approved bridge over Route 53 at Walter Strawn Drive in Elwood. It is a needed component to make the project — miles away from the existing rails — profitable. The company’s rendering of the bridge shows only one semi driving over an artist’s concept of the bridge. The image is misleading and represents the best reason so many in Will County have joined against the effort. NorthPoint’s promises of reduced truck traffic because of its development rings just as false as its rendering of the bridge. The bridge lacks necessary land and necessary Interstate Commerce Commission approvals.
The closed loop only goes into and out of the proposed project. Trucks are not going to circle in and out of the facility. Once trucks exit the facility, they will merge onto an already overburdened and dangerous Illinois Route 53, Interstates 55 and 80 and local roads. The NorthPoint claim that its project will reduce truck traffic is counterintuitive — the project is expected to bring in thousands of additional trucks per day.
The bucolic rendering of the bridge stands in stark contrast to the gridlock faced by Will County drivers: Fatalities on Interstate 80 and mile-long jams on Interstate 55 are common, and increasingly news stories report the heartache they have caused. The intersection of Illinois Route 53 and the I-80 interchange at Chicago Street is overburdened and unsafe.
Democracy relies on the wisdom of the people — a belief that people in our townships, villages and cities share a knowledge of what is needed and what is good for them. Overwhelmingly, the local governments have voiced opposition to the project.
Now, the project seems to stand in the hands of Gov. J. B. Pritzker, who has been asked to overrule the voice of the village of Elwood and approve taking the land necessary for the bridge for the private gain of NorthPoint’s investors.
Overwhelmingly, the local governments have voiced opposition to the project through letters and resolutions. They include the village of Elwood; the village of Manhattan; Jackson Township; Manhattan Township; the Elwood, Laraway and Manhattan school districts; and the Elwood Fire Protection District.
Veterans organizations speaking out against the project include the Stone City VFW Post 2199; Wilmington VFW Post 5422; and the Manhattan American Legion Post 935.
The region and the state will thrive by striking a balance and seeking new and innovative ways to bring prosperity to a region that can be known for protecting its national treasures and valuing the voice of the people.
Mary Baskerville is a reporter, editor and lifelong resident of the Joliet region.