Work will continue on Hobbie Avenue

March 28, 2019

KANKAKEE — The reconstruction of Kankakee’s Hobbie Avenue can proceed — at least the engineering portion.

The Kankakee County-wide transportation planning organization found a way to keep the Hobbie Avenue project moving and, at the same time, protect funding in case it is needed for roadwork at CSL Behring.

At Wednesday’s Kankakee Area Transportation Study Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting, the group unanimously approved a measure to keep the Hobbie Avenue reconstruction and the Armour Road expansion in the fast lane.

Basically, the board voted 6-0 to fund $480,000 of the $600,000 engineering study to Rosemont-based Christopher Burke Engineering. The Kankakee City Council, which will fund the remaining $120,000, approved the contract in January.

The MPO, however, did not make a commitment to the actual construction of Hobbie, which is expected to be $5 million, of which $4 million is to come from the MPO.

At issue is the board’s unwillingness to empty its local projects’ fund as it keeps its eyes on the Route 50 and Armour Road intersection, which is in need of upgrade, especially considering the traffic generated there by the expanding CSL Behring manufacturing plant.

There is hope the state could step forward to help fund roadwork near CSL.

The MPO basically collects transportation improvement funds from across the county and pools the money, about $850,000 annually. The group then identifies critical road projects, which are not funded through the state, and every few years has the most-pressing project completed.

The Hobbie project has been on the MPO’s list since 2008.

The group changed the list earlier this month, but Kankakee engineer Neil Piggush and Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong asked to have further discussion.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Wells-Armstrong said no one can dispute the importance of transportation in and around the CSL plant, but expressed extreme disappointment in the board’s move regarding Hobbie.

“We have to improve our east side (of Kankakee). Removing this project is harmful to our efforts,” she said. “I don’t think what you did (at the previous meeting) was fair. I’m asking you to reconsider.”

Tim Nugent, MPO chairman, Manteno mayor and president of the Economic Alliance of Kankakee County, said the Hobbie project would have not been questioned had the massive expansion at CSL not come forward.

CSL is the county’s top manufacturing employer with more than 1,600 workers. Last year, the company announced a 1.8-million-square-foot expansion. The company has not indicated how many jobs the expansion will add to its workforce.

The company has not asked any governmental body for assistance with the project other than making it easier to get into and out of its Bourbonnais Township site.

After a lengthy discussion, the MPO said perhaps both projects could move forward, but it wants to keep the remaining $4.6 million in the account in case the area has to move quickly on roadwork near the CSL plant.

So, Kankakee can move forward on its engineering and design work on Hobbie, but the MPO would not make any assurances to funding the actual construction at this point. The engineering and design work is expected to take 18-24 months to complete.

Kankakee County Board Chairman Andy Wheeler, who is a Kankakee resident, said the MPO projects list is based on transportation upgrades which have the most regional significance, rather than who’s turn it for a road project.

He described the CSL project as the most significant manufacturing expansion taking place in Illinois.

Wheeler said committing $4 million to Hobbie without knowing what is in the future regarding Route 50 and Armour would be irresponsible.

After the vote to OK engineering work on Hobbie moving forward, Wells-Armstrong thanked the board for agreeing to the compromise.