Metra and Pace Vote For Transit-Crushing Illiana Tollway in Advisory Meeting

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IDOT moving full steam ahead on unneeded road building in Illinois. Photo: straightedge217.

Chicago-area transportation organizations are poised to shoot themselves in the foot and harm the region by allowing the Illinois Department of Transportation Department to squander limited transportation infrastructure funds on the $2.75 billion Illiana Tollway. On Friday the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s transportation committee voted to recommend moving forward with this wasteful, destructive project, which promises to suck jobs from Illinois and send them to Indiana. It would create only 940 new jobs over the next thirty years.

Representatives of Metra and Pace, plus Steve Schlickman of UIC’s Urban Transportation Center (possibly motivated by fear of losing state funding), voted yes on an advisory motion to include the Illiana Tollway in the fiscally constrained projects list for CMAP’s GO TO 2040 regional plan. This would allow the highway project to compete for the same small pots of money that fund the transit agencies’ maintenance and expansion projects, as well as research and planning studies.

Max Muller, the Active Transportation Alliance’s director of government relations, was perplexed by the vote. “It makes as much sense as the Illiana Expressway proposal itself: none,” he said. Mueller added that the CTA and Metra voted against their own interests and “against a regional plan that prioritizes multimodal transportation and investment in existing infrastructure.”

On Friday, Stacy Meyers, policy coordinator for Openlands, a conservation group that is one of three organizations suing IDOT over the tollway, told the committee members that they would be unwise to support the project — echoing analysis of the Illiana by the Metropolitan Planning Council and CMAP’s own staff. “Your top projects will be deferred, underfunded or dropped, even if you have been told otherwise,” she said. “There simply isn’t enough money to do everything. We can barely cover what we have agreed to build.”

Reps from the CTA, the Chicago Department of Transportation, the Regional Transportation Authority, and other organizations abstained from voting, effectively handing over their votes to IDOT. Unsurprisingly, the three IDOT reps on the committee voted in favor of the project. The rep from the Illinois Tollway Authority also also voted yes, but that’s not surprising either since the commission enjoys a very secure funding mechanism and unwavering support from the governor’s office. In the end the CMAP committee voted 10 to seven in favor of the project.

Counter-intuitively, some of the most incisive criticism of the vote has come from the pro-road construction website TOLLROADSnews:

We love cars and roads and especially tollroads and in policy fights like this usually find ourselves on the ‘build-it’ side and against road opponents.

We don’t have much time for planners or reverence for longterm plans. There’s a pretension of extraordinary prescience in any plan for 2040! But they are correct in saying: let’s give priority to solving the problems we know we have now over addressing problems we might or might not have decades ahead.

The Illiana is a very bad road project – quite simply because it will serve so few drivers for the forseeable future, and may never serve sufficient to justify its cost. Resources are better deployed elsewhere.

Meyers also said the Illiana controversy represents a conflict between what the state government wants and what’s actually good for the Chicago area. “[At the center of the debate] is the question of whether our region will stand by the locally-adopted GO TO 2040 plan and rebuff the outside forces of IDOT and the governor who wish to supplant our regional-based values.” When you look at the tollway issue along with IDOT’s fast-tracked $475 million Circle Interchange Expansion project, plus its ban on protected bike lanes on state roads, its clear that IDOT often has a negative influence on Chicagoland transportation planning.

So what if, instead of voting against the region’s and their own interests, Metra, Pace, and the Urban Transportation Center, CDOT, the CTA, and the RTA took a stand by voting against the motion? Smart regional planning would have won by 13 to seven.

Again, this was an advisory vote. The CMAP board will take its own advisory vote this Wednesday morning at 9:30 a.m. at CMAP’s office in in the Sears Tower, 233 South Wacker. You must RSVP to attend. On Thursday, October 17, 3-4 p.m. at Sears Tower, CMAP’s metropolitan planning organization policy committee will take the final vote. Most of the same organizations that voted on Friday to take funding away from transit to pay for this unnecessary, job-sucking tollway will have the opportunity to correct that mistake, because if they do not include the Illiana in GO TO 2040, the project cannot proceed.

Here’s the voting breakdown from Friday:

Organization Vote
Northwestern (urban transportation center) Absent
UIC (urban transportation center) Yes
CMAP Bike/Ped Task Force No
Metropolitan Planning Council No
Center for Neighborhood Technology No
Cook County No
DuPage County Yes
Kane County Yes
Kendall County Absent
Lake County Abstain
McHenry County No
Will County Yes
CDOT Abstain
Council of Mayors No
CMAP No
RTA Abstain
NIRPC (northwestern Indiana MPO) Abstain
SWRPC (southeastern Wisconsin MPO) Absent
IDOT: Division of Public & Intermodal Yes
IDOT: Office of Planning & Programming Yes
Illinois EPA Absent
CTA Abstain
Railroads Absent
IDOT Yes
Tollway Yes
Metra Yes
Pace Yes
Private Providers Absent
  • BlueFairlane

    Another point about the Illiana I haven’t seen addressed is the proximity of the path to various nature preserves in a state sadly lacking in nature. The path of the Illiana would leave 55 around the Des Plaines State Fish and Wildlife Area, and would follow a path through the very narrow strip of land between the Kankakee River and the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. Midewin has done a very good job the last 20 years returning its little piece of the Joliet Arenal back to a more natural Illinois prairie. The Illiana would severely threaten all that.

  • Fred

    Assuming they don’t take IL47 to IL113 to avoid the 27mi of n/s out-of-the-way.

    I don’t understand why this project as planned doesn’t connect to 80.

  • Anonymous

    Indeed. It is the largest tallgrass prairie east of the Mississippi River and home to a variety of threatened and endangered species, not to mention the pressures that any sprawl a new highway cultivates would place on drinking water supplies, i.e., the Kankakee River and already depleted and degraded ground water.

  • BlueFairlane

    My guess is distance and the EPA. On the west end, you’d have to add another 13 miles to take the road from Wilmington to 80 at Morris, which increases the overall length by about 20%. This would be a more expensive path, though, as that’s one of the state’s largest wetland areas. The route would require a lot of bridges. Additionally, the fact that it is all wetland would make the environmental impact statements much more difficult to justify. I’m not as familiar with the east end, and the route it would take to connect with 80 up there isn’t obvious. I think at the very least, completely bypassing the 80-94 mess would take an additional 30 miles of Illiana. That’s all farmland, though, so there may be pushback from agriculture lobbies that makes it less appealing to Hoosiers.

  • Alex Oconnor

    Gray makes too much sense and has an in plac rail connection to DT Chicago; with the introduction of a low cost shuttle to from train the connection to the terminal is about a mile.

    Later if demand is required but in a people mover

  • I’ve mentioned it at the end of a post. Openlands, along with two other environmental protection organizations, are suing IDOT partly for the reason that it will threaten three different protected areas (including the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery).

    It was brought up again by Stacy Myers from Openlands at today’s boarding meeting (where the motion failed 4-10).

  • IDOT has started changing their tune. At the board meeting today Peter Harden (District 1 bureau chief of programming) stressed the advantage for truckers in building the road. They said that about half of vehicles would be trucks. They didn’t focus on this until recently.

    Randy Blankenhorn, executive director at CMAP, told me in a press briefing after the boarding meeting today that this is a truck bypass. This is the first I’ve heard the project being characterized by this single usage. IDOT knows that the congestion relief for the region (and even that sub-area) is minimal so perhaps they are trying to continue selling it as a truck bypass.

  • Driver

    South of the proposed route, going to northeastern Indiana. This would be great and would help me avoid Chicago area traffic. Build it!

  • Driver

    I’m not coming from Chicago, nor do I want to have to drive anywhere near Chicago. It takes me zero miles out of my way and takes off miles and time due to the ever so frequent backups on I-80/94. Does anyone on this blog realize there are people living south of Cook County?

  • BlueFairlane

    It’s hard to see the advantages to you or how those advantages might translate to the public at large without knowing the specifics of your path. You live south of the route and are traveling to northeastern Indiana. This is vaguely similar to a path I travel from time to time. If I want to dodge 80/94, depending on how for south I am, I either hop off 55 at Wilmington or on the south side of Kankakee, and it’s almost a straight shot all the way to 65. I know this denies you the pleasure of riding in a left lane, but the route as it stands is about as fast as it would be with the Illiana. The Illiana might save you five minutes at most, again depending on where you pick it up.

    Meanwhile, considering that these roads are virtually empty, I think the number of people like you who travel this path is well below the threshold justifying a $2.75 billion highway.

  • Anonymous

    Take 24 or 17 and safe taxpayers a few billion bucks.

  • Driver

    After doing the math on Google maps, that would add 45 minutes to my trip! I’m sorry but just because you don’t like this idea or wouldn’t use it doesn’t mean it wouldn’t help other people. I fully support this road and hope to see it built!

  • Driver

    As I just wrote to the other individual above who suggested I take 17 from 55 to 65, this would add 45 minutes to my trip. Sorry, I respect that you don’t like the idea but I do like it and I want to see this road built. I hope the negativity by some does not prevent the building of a road that could be very useful to many from happening.

  • BlueFairlane

    And I hope we don’t spend $2.75 billion to build a redundant road that saves maybe five people a few minutes on otherwise empty roads.

  • Anonymous

    Really, it has always been a truck route plan at its core.

    The project – truck route or otherwise – is a huge waste of taxpayer resources, relies on revenue projections beyond their ability to accurately project, is wholly inconsistent with GoTo2040, results in significant impacts with minimal benefits, etc., etc. Put most simply, it’s a dog of a project and should not be built – we have bigger fish to fry.

    The substantial arguments against the Illiana are the same whether the project is pitched as a truck route or not.

  • Anonymous

    Give me your start and end points, as that does not make sense.

    That issue aside, multi-billion dollar public investments require a greater level of financial justification than your unusual trip. If the highway is needed so desperately by all those people you claim need it, let them build it with 100% private funding – including paying for all of the studies, engineering, acquisition, etc.

    Go all-in.

    I suspect all-in might get you at least $10,000 through a well-done crowdsourced fundraiser. That would leave a little gap in the funding requirements, of course.

  • Anonymous

    Many = more than three, less than 100.

  • Driver

    Let’s take a look at how roads get built in the first place. There is a benefit/need expressed for them. People aren’t told to just go build it themselves when that happens. I am clearly not the only one in favor of this project and would just ask you to look at the potential benefits of this project as a whole and the need expressed and perhaps it will shed some light as to why there is support to build this road.

  • Anonymous

    That’s the point, driver – there is no public benefit or need supporting construction a multi-billion dollar Illiana.

    Therefore, those wanting it need to develop their own funding to make it happen.

  • Anonymous

    You make it sound as-if road building is a purely scientific process. You compare the costs to the benefits and if that works out, then lets build it.
    The reality is that it is a process driven by politicians, because economic impact studies have shown that there is no real benefit. Clearly not enough to justify building it.

  • Driver

    Read the transportation system performance report findings. Coolebra, you too. There is a real need for this road to be built. You’re entitled to your opinion about this but research shows there is a need.

  • FredD

    Yeah, I cant take him anymore either. This “Illiana” thing is as bad as Peotone International and is so wrong on so many levels…

    Whats needed to spare some of the $7B? wasted in time and expense yearly on this regions roads is to “finish” and desiamese I-90 from 94.

    The hypotenuse of the triangle formed by the Skyway in Englewood(A) to the Strangler in Hillside(B) is 16 miles…going thru the spaghetti bowl downtown(C) is 22 miles and always takes at least 45 minutes, more if theres any weather, construction or accidents. This would relieve traffic pressure on the Ryan, Ike and Kennedy, maybe even I-80 and revitalize the southside and west burbs like nothing else will. Imagine getting from Gary to Schaumburg in a half-hour.

  • Unfortunately, all that land is densely urban, and therefore expensive to bulldoze a highway onto … Besides, you can do it by taking 294 to 80 and Bob’s your uncle, it’s basically the route you want.

  • Guest

    re 40 mi out of way: wouldn’t surpriseme if there were an unstated plan to extend the route past i55 eventualy… Back around to 80 or maybe even to I39.

  • FredD

    It would go over existing railyards, rail ROWs, industrial areas with construction techniques like the Stevenson in some places, Glenwood Canyon (I-70) in others. Very little “bulldozing of dense urban areas” required. And yeah it would probably take $4B. But it would get something done. This $2.75B Illiana fiasco will do nothing to alleviate the regions traffic problems and add to exurban sprawl and open the door to another equally ridiculous project, Peotone International.

  • I still don’t see the overall massive advantage over taking the existing 294 and 80, especially for a Schaumburg/Gary trip. The road is already there, and isn’t massively congested in a “never take that” way (the way a good bit of the Kennedy is anywhere near rush hour).

  • Especially because $4B would go a long way towards a new subway, which would be insanely transformational towards traffic and transit; I don’t think a new Hypotenuse Highway would have anything like that much bang for our collective buck.

  • Anonymous

    “No one drives on the Kennedy anymore; it’s too crowded.” ;)

  • FredD

    First, to put this in context, last month, the new, 2.2 mile east span of the SF Bay bridge opened in the 11th largest MetroStatArea at a cost of $6.5B, projected to transport 270K vehicles daily.

    We are in the THIRD largest MSA. Our traffic volumes on the “free” ways to get around the lake are well over 300K daily. The alternative Tri-state tollway runs into I-80 which is still prone to massive back-ups. Hence the call for the Illiana. So we have basically two ways. Add another 1/2 for the Skyway and Indiana Toll Road. Now distance calculate Schaumburg to Hammond and Gary, 7 miles east. They are both about 60 miles.

    The Hypotenuse shortens about 6 miles from Hillside to Englewood. But another 4 is saved because it is the straightest route, eliminating the “curvature” of the Kennedy and Tri-state. So, magically, Schaumburg and Gary are ten miles closer, as are Madison and Indianapolis….even Seattle and Boston. A 16% shorter and faster way for interstate traffic to get thru the center of Chicagoland? Now, Bobs OUR uncle.

    I dont doubt that there are many worthy tranport projects here. A CTA line from Midway to Jefferson Park along Kenton and eventually to Evanston? A Brown Line express bus from Kimball to JeffPark along a Lawrence that has NO street parking? Existing Speed Rail from Ohare to Madison to Eau Claire to MSP in 200 minutes?

    Many things are possible when geometry and geography arent mucked up by politics. And good catch by Steve to point out that Illiana would waste $2.75B, as of last week, I was reading the 47-mile would only be $1B.

    Remember Chicago is THIRD, the de facto “capital” of the Midwest. I wish Springfield, etal would realize that.

  • R.A. Stewart

    Oh, come on. That makes sense. That would be sustainable. That would help preserve what’s left of some of the world’s best farmland. Why do you hate America, you elitist?

  • R.A. Stewart

    Geezer waving in recognition from his rocking chair here.

  • Adam Herstein

    Yeah, you’re right. I’d never make it as an elected official — I care too much about the welfare of the country and its people, and not enough about my own pocketbook.

  • FredD

    That would have to be one wicked subway. From where to where?

  • My preference would be for a long straight on the west side, possibly on the old rail right-of-way just east of Cicero; at minimum, connecting the Orange and Blue lines, but ideally going most of the way to the city limits on both ends. Being able to go from the west side to the south side WITHOUT having to go through downtown’s Bermuda-Triangle-like mess would be transformational. The X54 bus used to be a useful thing, but now to make the same trip on Cicero you have to change busses as many as three times, usually with long waits between (because even if they run to schedule, the schedules don’t line up).

    It could also be further east than Cicero, of course, that’s just the easy-to-use ROW I know about. And if you built it elevated for at least some of its lengthinstead of digging a hole, it might make the money go farther, plus let you double-purpose the ROW for, say, an express truck route or whatnot.

  • FredD

    How is a north-south CTA line (which I agree is needed) going to solve an east-west interstate highway problem?

  • Well, first of all, there’s a lot of argument over whether there IS an east-west interstate highway problem to be solved in the first place, but that’s beyond my expertise or area.

    The question I think is more interesting is, “Where will our $4B of public money make the largest difference to the entire region’s economy and the largest number of users (and beneficiaries of secondary/tertiary effects)?”

    In other words, what’s the best $4B we can spend, in ways that multiply it over and over and return it to the economy in ways that keep our whole region recovering and growing for decades to come. I’m pretty sure that if the Illiana were as much of an economic slam-dunk as a west-side Chicago subway line, most of the people running this blog would be lining up at meetings to support it — they’re not carphobes, and they’re not idiots.

    But let’s practice evidence-based public spending, not just deciding Wal-Mart needs a highway because they say they do.

  • FredD

    Yep. Just looked at it AGAIN…That land a new 16 mile tollway would go over is SPARSELY urban. Hypotenuse-the cure for Illiana fever.

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