A federal grant that has been awarded to the Illinois Department of Transportation could help to make Interstate 57 safer near Marion.
In a news release from Democratic U.S. Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin, it was announced that IDOT was awarded $7.6 million in federal funding for infrastructure improvements along Interstate 57 in Williamson County. The grant was awarded through U.S. Department of Transportation’s TIGER grant program.
According to the release, the money will be used for the expansion of approximately five miles of the interstate — an additional lane will be added in each direction, a median barrier will be installed, the existing lanes will be resurfaced, pavement markings and deficient guardrails will be updated, and raised reflectors and rumble strips will be installed.
In the news release, Durbin said he's hopeful that the funding will increase safety along that section of interstate, which is the site of numerous crashes, some deadly, each year.
“This funding will help prevent future accidents and improve safety for the tens of thousands of people who travel along this section of I-57 each day,” Durbin said.
Duckworth, who in January hoped she would hear President Donald Trump address infrastructure improvements in his State of the Union speech, praised the investment.
“Investing in our state’s infrastructure is one of the most important things we can do to move our state forward,” Duckworth said. “With the help of a significant infusion of federal TIGER funds, this project will go a long way toward improving safety and relieving congestion along Interstate 57.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, also saw the grant as a "win-win."
“It not only will improve safety along a dangerous stretch of highway between Marion and Mt. Vernon, but also has the potential to lead to economic development around Benton and other points in between," Bost said in a news release.
In the release from Bost's office, Rauner also praised the grant, adding that I-57 is an important thoroughfare for the state and the updates will help a "key segment" of the interstate.
Marion Mayor Anthony Rinella said Wednesday his office hadn't been notified of the grant. But, he said any improvement to safety along I-57 is welcomed.
"Just look at all the wrecks that was on there last summer,” Rinella said. He said he couldn't pinpoint why the interstate was so dangerous.
Williamson County Sheriff Bennie Vick said he, too, was enthusiastic about safety improvements — he said though the Illinois State Police are often the primary investigators for traffic crashes on the interstate, his deputies are also often on site.
“There’s a lot of man hours going to an accident,” Vick said, adding that fire departments are also called out. A reduction in crashes would cut back the time first responders spend cleaning them up, and could increase the time they have for other activities. Vick said beyond the time management aspect, there was also the simple public safety consideration.
Vick said he credits distraction and high speeds for at least part of the high crash rate on the interstate between Mount Vernon and Marion.
According to Trooper Joshua Haile with ISP District 13, eight people died on the District 13 portion of I-57 in 2017. Seventeen people died in the same stretch in 2016.