CMAP Board, Voting Down Illiana, Tells How IDOT Is Witholding Funds

CMAP board chair Gerald Bennett and CMAP CEO Randy Blankenhorn
CMAP board chair Gerald Bennett and CMAP CEO Randy Blankenhorn speaking to press after the vote.

After discussion that was heated at times, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning board voted ten to four yesterday against including the Illiana Tollway as a fiscally constrained project in the GO TO 2040 regional plan. This advisory vote precedes the MPO policy committee’s deciding vote, which was supposed to take place yesterday, but was pushed back to Thursday, October 17 by Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider. Presumably, this was done to give the state more time to rally support for this 47-mile tollway, which would run south of the urbanized metro region, serving relatively few drivers in the foreseeable future. The project would cost an estimated $2.75 billion, but it’s estimated to create only 940 new jobs over the next 40 years, and it would facilitate jobs being moved out of Illinois and into Indiana.

Will the MPO policy committee – with representatives from CDOT, CTA, Metra, Pace, and RTA, all of whom voted for the project or abstained from voting in last week’s transportation commitee meeting – vote against the highway?

That wouldn’t necessarily kill the project, as both board chair Gerald Bennett, Palos Hills mayor, and CMAP Executive Director Randy Blankenhorn acknowledged in a rare post-meeting press briefing. “You can never kill a plan,” Blankenhorn said, adding that he wants IDOT to finish the project’s engineering because CMAP is updating the GO TO 2040 plan and the organization wants to know how the Illiana fits in. Bennett mentioned that the Central-Narragansett project, which would move traffic over a railyard near Midway airport, has been proposed for decades and planning continues to this day.

During the meeting Bennett passionately argued for voting against the project because he said he was sick of CMAP being part of political decisions. He noted that the state has been pressuring the board to approve the Illiana and that IDOT has been delaying federal funds necessary to keep CMAP afloat. “IDOT did this five years ago,” Bennet explained, “when CMAP was in a fiscal crisis and the former governor [Blagojevich] wanted three voting seats but then five months later he backed down.”

Blankenhorn said IDOT currently owes CMAP $2.2 million, and this is making it difficult for the planning agency to pay its bills to their small business vendors. Blankenhorn told the standing room only audience that when CMAP asked IDOT why the funding was delayed, the state told them CMAP had a clean audit, but it was auditing a downstate metropolitan planning agency and was implementing “new controls”. This was the same excuse IDOT gave last time it withheld CMAP’s funds, five or six years ago, added Bennett. A letter CMAP sent to the Federal Highway Administration in September complained about the $2.2 million in unpaid invoices, and noted that other reimbursement checks were delayed up to 52 days. Federal law requires that the state release these funds within 15 days.

I look forward to a future where IDOT doesn’t negatively impact transportation in the Chicago region. Let’s hope that next week local leaders launch a new era where decisions about projects are based on their potential to improve regional transportation, not due to political pressure, by voting against the Illiana.

  • Anonymous

    Illinois’ long record of justifying major capital investments using patently flawed analysis slips a bit further into the dark recesses of abuse from within which a number of Illinois political figures have emerged in black and white stripes – no, it isn’t a changing room, but rather a smoke-filled back room where deals are made and visions of the future extinguished in favor of immediate gain, or for no public gain at all – a backwards slide into fiscal irresponsibility.

    GoTo2040 was an award-winning public planning process which developed, among other things, a preferred regional scenario. That scenario does not include an ever-expanding urbanized area that consumes far more resources at or beyond the fringe than it does in existing developed areas.

    We need to fix what we have.

    We need to make what we have more efficient.

    We need to expand alternative forms of transportation in heavily urbanized areas, which are the economic engines of the region, the state, and the nation.

    We can not afford to dilute our spending power through projects the siphen massive amounts of public dollars away from critical infrastructure needs while at the same time expanding the financial burden we will carry moving forward.

    The Illiana is a waste of public resources, is inconsistent with the adopted regional comprehensive plan, will harm important natural resources, and has its justification rooted in severely flawed analysis designed and intended to simply sell the taxpayers of Illinois a bill of goods.

    Drop it and move on to the worthwhile investments that will actually improve the flow of people and commerce through the region. We need to get our priorities right, and Illiana has them dead-wrong.

  • Anonymous

    Illinois’ long record of justifying major capital investments using patently flawed analysis slips a bit further into the dark recesses of abuse from within which a number of Illinois political figures have emerged in black and white stripes – no, it isn’t a changing room, but rather a smoke-filled back room where deals are made and visions of the future extinguished in favor of immediate gain, or for no public gain at all – a backwards slide into fiscal irresponsibility.

    GoTo2040 was an award-winning public planning process which developed, among other things, a preferred regional scenario. That scenario does not include an ever-expanding urbanized area that consumes far more resources at or beyond the fringe than it does in existing developed areas.

    We need to fix what we have.

    We need to make what we have more efficient.

    We need to expand alternative forms of transportation in heavily urbanized areas, which are the economic engines of the region, the state, and the nation.

    We can not afford to dilute our spending power through projects the siphen massive amounts of public dollars away from critical infrastructure needs while at the same time expanding the financial burden we will carry moving forward.

    The Illiana is a waste of public resources, is inconsistent with the adopted regional comprehensive plan, will harm important natural resources, and has its justification rooted in severely flawed analysis designed and intended to simply sell the taxpayers of Illinois a bill of goods.

    Drop it and move on to the worthwhile investments that will actually improve the flow of people and commerce through the region. We need to get our priorities right, and Illiana has them dead-wrong.

  • Chicagio

    Could not agree more. I really think this decision is for the soul of Chicagoland planning. Will IDOT, with their backward looking, corrupt operation continue to bring the Chicagoland economy to gridlock or will CMAP be able continue its effort to bring our infrastructure into the 21st century? Honestly, if the Illiana is approved, i see no reason to have a regional planning agency because it would be clear that politics and not sound planning practices determine which projects get funded.

  • Regarding award-winning: This was brought up at the board meeting. It was also said that the U.S. DOT said that the plan was a model for the nation.

    1909 Plan of Chicago
    2010 GO TO 2040

  • Aside from the regional planning that CMAP does, it also provides its expertise in the Local Technical Assistance (LTA) program to help communities of all sizes achieve some of the localized versions of the plan’s goals.

    For example, the Wicker Park-Bucktown Special Service Area “hired” CMAP (with an LTA grant) to have their staff survey parking demands, needs, problems, and solutions in order to reduce congestion and increase pedestrian and bicyclist safety.

  • Adam Herstein

    Illinois politics at their finest!

  • Chicagio

    Yeah but saying we should shut down CMAP if the Illiana passes sounds more dramatic. Stop ruining my mojo, dude. (And thanks for the reminder of what CMAP does beyond regional planning.)

  • Anonymous

    Now nobody can ever take your Mojo away. You can keep it in your phone forever.

  • Bravo. I’ve been really impressed with the region’s response to this long-lurking threat: a road from nowhere, through nowhere, to nowhere, paid for by Illinois but solely benefitting Indiana.

  • Anonymous

    IDOT is ridiculous.

    As far as this tollway is concerned:
    No. JUST NO.
    INSPAND, don’t EXPAND.

    I’m
    not a bike riding hipster in Chicago (more power to em though), I’m not an anti-car snob. I’m a lifelong south burb resident who cares about my region enough to
    oppose permanent, destructive projects with unknown benefits OR costs.
    All my life i’ve lived not far from the footprint
    of this bigfoot known as the “3rd airport” and recently, its companion
    project the Ill TOLLway (how come they never call it that?) I say, again, NO.

    The
    pols and real estate cronies of Chicagoland seem to have no idea about
    economic growth that does not involve sprawling out forever and ever. Soon it
    will be solid pavement from Matteson to Kankakee, and Morris to Laporte,
    Indiana. (Yeah, you too, NW Indiana “Region” cronies.)

    How about using the land already developed and heavily served by infrastructure,
    much of which is sitting vacant, or underused?

    Will Co: instead
    of moving heaven and earth to bulldoze a bunch more farmland and
    wetland, how about investing in your own county seat? Downtown Joliet is
    a disgrace. I’ve spent many days there in the last year, thanks to the
    wonderful ticket-writing talents of WIll Co municipalities who, i guess,
    don’t have real crime to fight and don’t have other revenue enhancement
    ideas. Joliet has the air of decayed majesty — there’s a lot of beauty,
    and it could be much more beautiful. But nobody lives downtown since
    there’s little resi development — so the businesses have few customers,
    and none after 4-4:30 when the govt buildings close. Everybody wants to
    throw up another big box mall and more cardboard box subdivisions 15 or
    20 or 30 minutes away – the same ones that are overbuilt and not even
    occupied now, and will not even begin to pay for the infrastructure
    subsidies they
    suck up for many years.

    I talked with a local contractor about this. The foolishness of it all made him shake his head.

    ENOUGH. Work with what you’ve got before engulfing half the state with this so-called “development.”

    And
    speaking of airports, Gary’s a far better location. They’re already
    industrialized, and already polluted. Developing their existing airport
    is actually requiring them to clean up. Illinoisans can also benefit
    from jobs there.

    The problem with IL is the overall environment
    is bad even for the best business. Instead of intelligent, sensible tax
    and regulatory (and corruption) reform, the pols and wheeler-dealers see
    trading off more land and infrastructure as the easy way out. Time for
    some new ideas.

  • R.A. Stewart

    @intalecshul, bravo, or brava, depending. :-)

    Agreed about Joliet. Every time I go to Springfield (by Amtrak whenever possible) I look out at downtown Joliet while we’re stopped and am struck by how really beautiful those old buildings are. Decayed majesty is a good description.

    And that farmland–that right there is one of Will County’s, and the state’s and region’s, most valuable resources. And it’s only going to get more important, and not just because, as Mark Twain (I think) said, they’re not making any more of it. We’ve forgotten what it was like, generations ago, when it was expensive to transport food for thousands of miles. We’re going to relearn. When that happens, I want to have–and more importantly, I want my children and grandchildren to have–a plentiful supply close to home. We’ve already stretched out dangerously the distance even “local” food has to be brought in. We need to get some sense, start thinking about our descendants and the world we are leaving them, and stop throwing this fundamental and irreplaceable resource away.

    Same goes for all those wetlands, which if anything we’ve been even more profligate about destroying. People in overdeveloped flood plains–some of them anyway, those prepared to make a connection between cause and consequence–are already starting to regret what we’ve to the local watersheds. There are going to be a lot more of us regretting it a whole lot more, if we don’t start preserving, restoring, and expanding what we have.

    (I should mention that I live in Chicago, and I have a bike. Maybe two, depending on whether my son ever reclaims the Sekine. But sadly, I haven’t ridden in a while, and am a decade or four past credible hipster range.)

  • R.A. Stewart

    I hadn’t thought of it that way, but yes, the opposition, even on the part of some decision-makers, has been refreshing. Historically, “a road from nowhere, through nowhere, to nowhere, paid for by Illinois but solely benefitting Indiana” would have been a slam-dunk.

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