I-57, I-294 may be reconstructed, linked

Students traveling north to go home from the University may soon find more traffic than usual.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn announced that money from a capital fund will help to start reconstruction of the I-57/I-294 overpass — one of the few places in the country where two major interstates intersect but do not connect.

According to Illinois Department of Transportation, or IDOT, Spokesman Guy Tridgell, $28 million from the Illinois Jobs Now! fund will be used to replace the 45-year-old bridge where I-57 crosses over I-294 beginning sometime in the spring and finishing sometime in 2013.

“The bridge is a preliminary step to prepare (I-57) for eventual changes from the full interchange project,” Tridgell said.

The entire interchange project, where a ramp will connect I-294 to I-57, will cost $600 million and is still being considered for approval by the Federal Highway Administration. Once approved, the project will be underway with portions of the ramp being completed in phases, according to Tridgell.

This project is one of many the state is working on, pledging $8 billion to repair 4,800 miles of road and 566 bridges and creating 155,000 permanent and non-permanent jobs since 2009, according to IDOT.

“We are extremely proud to see this project moving forward. This project will help stimulate the local economy, improve safety in the area and create jobs,” said IDOT Secretary Gary Hannig.

According to an IDOT press release, the benefits from the overpass replacement, specifically, include reduced traffic times and a boosted economy by creating up to 350 jobs.

Tridgell added that the entire project will create about 13,500 permanent and non-permanent construction jobs along with awarding 11 contracts for the project development.

“The interchange project will help economic development by mainly creating jobs in (industries) like in hotels, retail, manufacturing and more,” Tridgell said.

“The sky is the limit for the possibilities of jobs this project can create,” he added.

According to Tridgell, the time it will take to complete the entire project is based off the available funds.

IDOT and the Illinois State Toll Highway have each pledged $50 million. Tridgell said the rest of the money will most likely come from the federal government.

“When it comes to a lot of the interstate highways, the federal government usually provides for 80 percent of the project, and the state government provides the other 20 percent,” he said.

Along with reducing traffic times, the new overpass will re-route trucks to help reduce local road traffic in the surrounding area, according to the press release.

“This interchange project can help the thousands of people who use these roads get by fast without taking (other) roads. It can also help people to and from Champaign,” said Tridgell.

Students said they have mixed opinions about this new construction project.

“I drive home a lot, and it would be nice to get on (I-294) without taking local roads, because there is a lot of traffic,” said Adrian Smith, junior in LAS.

Xinrui Hu, freshman in DGS, said the project would be nice but she thinks money should be allocated toward something more pertinent to her, such as higher education.

Robert Prochaska, freshman in FAA, said it may not be the government’s place to finance road construction.

“I am against government spending on construction because I think that it can be entirely done privately,” Prochaska said.