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Dangerous Stretch Of I-80 Could See Improvements

CHICAGO (CBS)-- Interstate I-80 in Will County is the subject of many frustrations for motorists, who encounter regular traffic backups and accidents.

Last year, a semi truck crashed in the area and burst into flames--one of many accidents that result in traffic backups that can stretch for miles.

A fatal crash on I-80 last fall.

The Illinois Department of Transportation is launching a study to examine potential roadway improvements to boost safety and reduce traffic on the highway, a major arterial route from running east to west through Illinois.

At Joliet tavern Heroes West on Tuesday, motorists echoed the frustrations of many drivers used to waiting in I-80 traffic.

"There's a lot of truck traffic and only two lanes," said Joe Pecora.

Braidwood resident Ryan Micheletto said trucking accidents were all too common.

"Every week we see a rollover, fatality or back up," Micheletto said.

Some motorists have banded together to form a group, "Residents United for Safer Highways," including WJOL radio's Scott Slocum.

The stretch of I-80 that has become the focus of IDOT stretches for 15 miles east from Route 30 in New Lenox west to River Road in Minooka.

A recent study conducted by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute documents 37 fatal crashes in the area during a 15-year period.

"Traffic here has increased exponentially and roads are not built to sustain the traffic," said Frank Manzo IV of the Illinois Economic Policy Institute.

The corridor is almost completely two lanes in each direction, and 39 bridges dot the roadway--many designed without safety shoulders.

A heavy warehouse presence doubles truck traffic compared to neighboring highways. Twenty-five percent of the traffic is comprised of trucks, IDOT says.

$300 million in improvements could begin by the end of the year, but $1 billion is needed for a full modernization.

"What we need in the meantime are short term measures, whether it's signage or declaring the roadway (as) a hazardous zone," Slocum said.

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