CHICAGO – The private operator of a partially bond-financed rail-freight transfer facility would provide most of the funding for a new toll bridge project under a public-private agreement struck with Illinois.
"The project is long overdue and will only enhance the region's position as a freight hub for North America and an economic engine for the state," Gov. Bruce Rauner said at a news conference Monday to announce the project. "Illinois needs more projects just like these creative solutions to fund infrastructure and keep Illinois competitive far into the 21st century."
The state would contribute $20 million to the project while the company – CenterPoint Properties -- would cover the bulk of funding estimated at between $150 million and $170 million.
"CenterPoint is building it and CenterPoint is going to run it," Rauner said.
Final financing decisions have not been made but the project would be eligible for private activity bond financing, said Illinois Department of Transportation spokesman Guy Tridgell.
The new tolled bridge would be built on Houbolt Road over the Des Plaines River and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad, linking Interstate 80 and CenterPoint's intermodal facilities in Will County. The facility has been called the country's largest inland port where goods are transferred between rail and freight.
The project would ease traffic congestion on local roads, improve safety and strengthen the state's economy, officials said. Will County must pass a resolution allowing tolls to be issued and collected by CenterPoint.
IDOT's contribution will finance the widening of Houbolt Road and reconfiguring of an existing interchange to a diverging-diamond design to accommodate the increased traffic demand. When complete, the project will provide two lanes of traffic in each direction between I-80 and CenterPoint's intermodal facilities.
Construction could start as soon as 2017, with the bridge opening to traffic in late 2018 or early 2019.
About 11,000 vehicles per day are expected to use the bridge initially, including more than 6,600 trucks. By the year 2040, it is anticipated that traffic will grow to approximately 30,000 vehicles per day, including about 18,000 trucks, a state announcement said.
"By working closely with all stakeholders involved, we have come up with a creative approach that can be a model to solving infrastructure needs elsewhere in the state," Illinois Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn said at the announcement.
While such private financing for projects is welcome, Rauner said his hope is to pass a new infrastructure funding package to replace the current $31 billion program that is winding down. A package won't be pursued until the state resolves its budget impasse.
Once a full budget is in place "my priority is going to be putting a very big infrastructure plan in place" that includes new borrowing, Rauner said.
The CenterPoint Joliet Terminal Railroad LLC has relied on a special 11-year-old federal private activity bond program for financing to build and expand the inland port facility.
The project has an allocation under the U.S. Department of Transportation's freight transfer facility revenue bond program established in 2005 in the SAFETEA-LU federal transportation authorization, which authorized an initial $15 billion of PABs for qualified projects.
The program seeks to promote private investment in highway, bridge and intermodal freight-transfer facility projects of regional or national importance with tax-exempt PABs. Such projects aren't subject to state PAB volume caps.
The facility is the only intermodal facility financed to date under the U.S. Department of Transportation's private activity bond program.
The CenterPoint Intermodal Center is housed on a 4,000-acre Joliet site with distribution centers, container storage yards, and export facilities all in one campus.
The intermodal facility allows for the direct transfer of goods between and among trains and trucks, allowing customers to smooth the process of shipping goods from the U.S. coasts inland by rail for distribution by truck.