Governors from Illinois and Indiana kicked off a two-day forum Monday in hopes of attracting potential contractors, laborers and investors for a planned 47-mile expressway aimed at relieving traffic congestion into the Chicago area and creating jobs.
The proposed highway linking the two states has been discussed for decades, and both states agreed to move forward in 2010. The proposed route will go from Interstate 55 near Willington, Ill., to Interstate 65 in Indiana. Land acquisition and construction could start in 2015, and construction for the project is expected to take about three years.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence both billed the so-called Illiana Expressway as a way to create jobs. Officials estimate the expressway will bring roughly 9,000 construction jobs and about 25,000 more permanent jobs.
"This is a vital link," Quinn told the crowd. "It's about logistics. It's about distribution. It's about covering the Heartland."
Several hundred people, including officials with the Federal Highway Administration, attended. The event was scheduled to end Tuesday afternoon after presentations from transportation officials in both states and one-on-one meetings for the roughly $1.3 billion project.
The governors said it's also a way to stimulate economic growth.
"Our nation will not achieve our full potential in the 21st century if we don't relight the pilot light of the industrial Midwest," Pence said. "... And the Illiana is central to putting the Midwest back at the very center of American prosperity."
Supporters, including a truckers' association, have said the route is needed to increase access to the region. However, some opponents argue that the project will cut up farm land and affect wild life, among other things.
But Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider said the project will include solutions for environmental issues. She said that up to 50 percent of the traffic on the expressway will be trucks, which will relieve congestion on local roads.