Transportation planning agency OKs Illiana tollway

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

A Chicago-area planning agency voted Thursday to proceed with a $1.3 billion expressway between Indiana and Illinois, ignoring criticism from its own board of directors that the project was an expensive boondoggle, and pleas from landowners that it would destroy rich farmland.

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning's policy committee voted 11-8 to include the so-called Illiana tollway linking Interstate 55 in Will County, Ill., and Interstate 65 in Lake County, Ind., in its long-term development plan for the region. The step was necessary for the project to receive federal funding.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence have pushed hard for the 47-mile link, promising it would help speed goods by truck, reduce congestion and create thousands of jobs. They also say private investors will be sought to pay most of the cost for building, operating and maintaining the road under a 35-year deal, with tolls repaying state debt.

Quinn responded quickly after the vote, saying in a statement that the expressway "marks a major victory for economic development and jobs."

Will County Executive Lawrence Walsh, a committee member who voted in favor of the plan, said the county is one of the nation's largest intermodal transportation hubs, and the tollway is needed to get heavy trucks off of local roads.

But Will County board member Ragan Freitag said not all residents support the roadway, and some of her constituents left the meeting crying.

"They're losing their homes, they're losing their farms and they're losing their livelihood," Freitag said.

The Illinois Department of Transportation has said the tollway would create 9,000 short-term and 28,000 long-term jobs, and eventually could generate up to $500 million for the state to use on other projects.

Even so, the regional planning agency's own analysis concluded that the route's traffic and tolls would fall short, leaving Illinois taxpayers on the hook for up to $1.1 billion. The agency's board of directors voted against the project last week, with the chairman criticizing it as a "highway in nowhere land" that would divert money from other critical projects and complaining about political pressure.

But the agency's policy committee had the last word — and had been lobbied hard by unions, business groups and elected officials who support the tollway.

What's more, the committee's chairwoman is Illinois Department of Transportation Director Ann Schneider, a gubernatorial appointee who touted the corridor as a smart investment that will encourage the expansion of intermodal freight facilities eager for a new route for trucks that are getting caught in existing congestion.

Schneider said after the meeting that the vote was "a very big step" in the process, and she was eager to move forward with the state's first public-private partnership.

IDOT will solicit requests for qualifications from interested investors in November, with the goal of short-listing potential developers by the end of the year. The department then would seek bids by the end of next summer if the project gets final federal environmental and state approvals. The project could break ground by late next year or 2015, Schneider said.

The state would acquire property required for the project.

IDOT has said it could take up to 18 years for the tolls to start generating a profit, but the state eventually could reap up to $500 million. Even so, upfront public cost would be significant, perhaps as much as $500 million for land acquisition and other costs. The state has already spent $40 million studying the project, Schneider said.

Three environmental groups have filed a federal lawsuit, claiming the Federal Highway Administration violated the law by approving an environmental study that failed to adequately assess potential impacts to endangered wildlife, critical habitat and other sensitive areas, and was based on inflated population and jobs projections. They also complain that the tollway would lead to urban sprawl.

"This was a political process. Purely political," said Jerry Adelmann, president and CEO of Openlands, one of the plaintiffs. "We're certainly not giving up in any way."


Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. I never thought I'd see the day when a Republican Mayor would lead the charge in attempting to raise every tax we have to pay. Now it's income taxes and property taxes that Ballard wants to increase. And to pay for a pre-K program? Many studies have shown that pre-K offer no long-term educational benefits whatsoever. And Ballard is pitching it as a way of fighting crime? Who is he kidding? It's about government provided day care. It's a shame that we elected a Republican who has turned out to be a huge big spending, big taxing, big borrowing liberal Democrat.

  2. Why do we blame the unions? They did not create the 11 different school districts that are the root of the problem.

  3. I was just watching an AOW race from cleveland in 1997...in addition to the 65K for the race, there were more people in boats watching that race from the lake than were IndyCar fans watching the 2014 IndyCar season finale in the Fontana grandstands. Just sayin...That's some resurgence modern IndyCar has going. Almost profitable, nobody in the grandstands and TV ratings dropping 61% at some tracks in the series. Business model..."CRAZY" as said by a NASCAR track general manager. Yup, this thing is purring like a cat! Sponsors...send them your cash, pronto!!! LOL, not a chance.

  4. I'm sure Indiana is paradise for the wealthy and affluent, but what about the rest of us? Over the last 40 years, conservatives and the business elite have run this country (and state)into the ground. The pendulum will swing back as more moderate voters get tired of Reaganomics and regressive social policies. Add to that the wave of minority voters coming up in the next 10 to 15 years and things will get better. unfortunately we have to suffer through 10 more years of gerrymandered districts and dispropionate representation.

  5. Funny thing....rich people telling poor people how bad the other rich people are wanting to cut benefits/school etc and that they should vote for those rich people that just did it. Just saying..............