JOLIET – The state on Thursday declared the Interstate 80 bridge over the Des Plaines River in Joliet is safe despite an inspection report describing sections as "critical," "intolerable" and a "high priority for replacement."
The statement followed an announcement from Joliet Mayor Bob O'Dekirk that he was prepared to divert traffic away from the bridge and notify Joliet residents by mail and other means of its "potential danger" if the state does not develop a plan for repairs.
O'Dekirk softened his stance later in the day after talking with the Illinois Department of Transportation. But the mayor said he wants more information and would go forward with measures to divert traffic away from the bridge if he is not convinced it is safe.
"From what they [IDOT officials] are saying, there is a plan in place, so we have to take a look at it," O'Dekirk said. "Ultimately, I'm not going to be a passive observer."
IDOT said a repair project is slated to start in the spring.
The flare-up over the Des Plaines River bridge is the latest in a series of issues raised about I-80 conditions that have prompted the formation of two local action groups seeking highway improvements.
The mayor issued his initial statement after a CBS Chicago news story citing an IDOT inspection report from April listing the westbound bridge superstructure as "Critical Condition – May Require Closure."
The superstructure is the upper section including trusses that help support the bridge.
The Des Plaines River bridge actually is two bridges – one for westbound traffic and another for eastbound traffic.
The superstructure of the eastbound bridge is described in a May inspection report as "Serious Condition – Significant Section Loss."
The reports provide a structural evaluation of both bridges as "Intolerable – High Priority for Correction."
IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell said no one was available Thursday to discuss the inspection reports.
Tridgell did issue email statements saying that a project estimated to cost $5 million is scheduled to begin this spring "addressing structural steel and bearing repairs" on the bridges.
"While short-term repairs already are planned for this spring, the bridges are safe for travel and do not need to be closed," according to a second statement on behalf of IDOT.
The statement added that "IDOT has met several times with local officials and stakeholders on a course of action to improve Interstate 80" and the Des Plaines River bridges.
IDOT a year ago held an open house at Joliet Junior College to present long-term plans for I-80, including eventual replacement of the Des Plaines River bridges.
A timetable for bridge replacement has not been set.
The entire project is estimated to cost more than $1 billion and is not funded.
The open house was held at a time of growing local concern about I-80 because of increased traffic on a highway where interchanges have become obsolete and bridges are deteriorating.
Conditions on the Des Plaines River bridges have been worsening.
The Herald-News in an August 2017 report listed the bridges as among the five worst in Will County. IDOT inspections in April and May 2017 listed the superstructure on both sides as being in poor condition with advanced deterioration.
O'Dekirk said he called Gov. J.B. Pritzker's office seeking a meeting to discuss plans for the bridges.
"Whatever the condition, it's not going to get any better," O'Dekirk said, "and it's time to get something done."