BOURBONNAIS — For 20 years, many wondered if they would ever be able to get off Interstate 57 at Bourbonnais Parkway.
The anticipation ramped up during the past few years with construction cones and signage marking Exit 318.
On Friday, the county’s future economic engine finally opened with vehicles passing through the interchange that will one day be surrounded by a 1,200-acre business and industrial park.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring about 90 people, including Republican State Rep. Lindsay Parkhurst and Democrat challenger Lisa Dugan, officially declared the interchange usable.
“This was the interchange that you just weren’t really sure was going to happen or not,” Bourbonnais Mayor Paul Schore said. “It started and stopped on a number occasions. Going back 20 years, it’s hard to believe that we are finally standing here today.”
The interchange’s inception dates back to 1999, when local officials started drawing pictures on large maps, wondering how the interchange would change Kankakee County’s landscape.
With Bourbonnais, Bradley and Manteno growing, they saw a future need for transportation improvements. County Road 6000N made the most sense with ties to U.S. Route 45/52 and Illinois Route 50, as well as the Canadian National Railroad.
That vision from the “godparents” of the interchange, as Schore called them, as well as collaboration between the three villages and various agencies, made the dream come true, resulting in a $46.3 million project completed by Kankakee Valley Construction Co.
“You know you have a good project when a lot of people want to get on board,” Schore said. “This was one of those projects.”
It also comes with a modern twist. The I-57 overpass on Bourbonnais Parkway features pedestrian walking spaces, as well as LED lighting that will make it stand out from most interchanges.
“The LED lights you are seeing here are one of the first times we have tried this in our system,” said Randall Blankenhorn, secretary of the Illinois Department of Transportation. “It’s going to be more energy-efficient. It’s going to look better. It’s going to be brighter. I think you are really going to notice a difference at this interchange while driving down Interstate 57.”
That works hand-in-hand with the village’s vision of turning Bourbonnais Parkway into Kankakee County’s future economic engine and center for job growth.
The village has laid the foundation for future developers with a $10.2 million sewer interceptor project, a 1 percent hotel/motel tax and declaring the area as a business district.
With the interchange open, it is now a matter of recruiting developers and businesses to Bourbonnais.
“You are standing on the region’s future,” Schore said. “This project may have taken better than 20 years, but it’s setting the stage. It’s ready for the next 50 years of development. We didn’t build it for today. We built it for tomorrow. This is being proactive, not reactive. That’s always the best of things.”