CMAP Board Members Will Try to Boot Illiana Boondoggle From Regional Plan

illiana traffic projections
Driving in northeastern Illinois is dropping 0.49 percent annually in recent years and increased at an annual rate of just 0.42 percent in the decade prior, but IDOT projects that driving will increase 0.92 percent annually. Chart: U.S. PIRG

After appointees loyal to Governor Pat Quinn muscled the Illiana tollway onto the project list for Chicagoland’s regional plan, it looked like nothing could stop this risky highway boondoggle from getting funded and built. The Illiana may still happen, but not without a fight.

Last week, the board of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning discussed how to kick the Illiana Tollway out of the regional plan. The CMAP Board and the CMAP MPO Policy committee will hold a joint meeting on October 8 to approve the update to the GO TO 2040 plan that includes the Illiana. CMAP must list any big transportation on the plan before any agency can build it.

Board chair Gerald Bennett, mayor of Palos Hills, asked whether board members could make a motion to excise the Illiana from the plan update before it’s approved. CMAP Executive Director Randy Blankenhorn assured them they can do so.

Erica Dodt of the Sierra Club told Streetsblog that Bennett plans to ask for this motion next month. There are many good reasons CMAP should leave the Illiana perpetually on the drawing board.

According to a CMAP staff analysis released last year, the Illiana Tollway will need an enormous, $250 million startup subsidy from taxpayers. Agency staff also said the project is contrary to GO TO 2040’s focus of making infrastructure investments in already developed areas.

Yet the same flaws in CMAP governance that let the Illiana corrupt the regional plan in the first place could crop up again. CMAP’s MPO Policy committee voted to include the Illiana last year, in a 11-8 vote where Pace and Metra representatives cast decisive votes, going against the interests of their own riders. Right now there’s a lawsuit challenging this decision, alleging that the policy committee didn’t follow state law. According to the Environmental Law & Policy Center, the policy committee cannot vote on what the CMAP board has not approved.

To remove the Illiana from the regional plan, Bennett asked for another member to motion for the MPO Policy committee to adhere to the same supermajority rule as the CMAP board. The board requires a three quarters majority to approve a project. By that rule, the policy committee would need a 15-4 vote (or a 14-5 vote, if they are allowed to round down).

Stacy Myers of Openlands spoke against the Illiana Tollway last week. She told Streetsblog that the supermajority rule is to “help cure the rift between CMAP Board and MPO Policy committee decisions.”

Peter Skosey, vice president of Metropolitan Planning Council, said this discrepancy should not be permitted. “The charge of the policy committee…is to program transportation dollars,” he said in his testimony to the board. “If the broader agenda of CMAP’s board can be over-ruled by the narrower agenda of the policy committee then the promise of CMAP will never be fulfilled.”

Skosey was referring to how the state merged land use and transportation planning agencies to create CMAP in the first place. GO TO 2040 is a comprehensive plan meant to address interrelated issues like water management and workforce development, Skosey said. It’s an enormous task even without a governance structure that lets one committee overrule its own board. “In October, you’re not merely voting on the plan update,” he said. “You are setting a precedent that could hinder CMAP’s ability to enact a responsible, regional plan.”

The Illiana now has national notoriety. U.S. Public Interest Research Group listed it in a new national report about 11 highway boondoggles [PDF]. The authors cite CMAP’s conclusion that the highway would expose Illinois to “extensive financial risk.”

Illiana Tollway is based on outdated assumptions and projections
Abe Scarr of Illinois PIRG, standing in front of the structurally deficient Halsted Bridge, said IDOT should spend money fixing existing infrastructure, not expanding highways.

Standing beneath the structurally deficient Halsted Street bridge this morning, Abe Scarr of Illinois PIRG said that “traffic engineers continue to base the rationale for new roads on outdated and obsolete assumptions,” despite data that shows people are driving less. “Illiana planners have not woken up to these changes,” Scarr said.

Driving mileage in the 18-county region has gone down 0.49 percent annually since 2010, but IDOT is projecting 0.92 percent annual growth. Scarr called for the state to invest in maintaining infrastructure, adding that there are 2,274 other structurally deficient bridges in Illinois.

If IDOT and Governor Quinn separated politics from planning, U.S. PIRG wrote, they’d see the Illiana would have a “negligible impact on regional transportation performance.”

  • cjlane

    Good luck. It’a an election year, and Quinn needs the south suburban vote to turn out. Which accounts for the recent starting of the Petone eminent domain process, too.

    “or a 14-5 vote, if they are allowed to round down”

    That would not be a 3/4s vote; no rounding allowed–must be 75% or more. 14-4 would work, so long as 18 constitutes a quorum.

  • C Monroe

    who wants this? conservatives and liberals from both Illinois and Indiana have been denouncing it as wasteful spending.

  • cjlane

    1. Someone(s) with Pat Quinn’s ear.
    2. Paving industry.
    3. Land speculators who own land, or options to buy, in the path, and, especially, near the proposed exits.
    4. Every politician who gets campaign money from Nos. 1, 2 and 3.

    That equals a lot of people with a lot of clout. And it’s an election year, so category 4 pays even more attention than usual. And they’re all spending someone else’s money, so it doesn’t matter to them.

  • Fbfree

    Please clairify the process to get Illiana killed. Is the policy committee getting another vote? Who gets to set the supermajority rule? Is the board able to directly remove Illiana from the regional plan without going through the committee?

  • Roland Solinski

    To that list, let’s add
    A) drivers who think Illiana will decongest 80/94 (it won’t)
    B) Will County leaders who think Illiana will bring jobs (these will just be relocated jobs, not new ones)

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Also, the pols use road work projects to promise “jobs.”

  • C Monroe

    I have driven 80/94 many times and it is only heavy/congested during rush hour, but 94 is a busy freeway because it is the main route between Michigan and Chicago.

  • Paul the Fossil

    It’s Pat Quinn’s baby because it’s Larry Walsh’s baby and has been for years. Walsh is the Will County chair and political boss. The most explicit/strident pusher of the project has always been the construction unions led by Local 150 which is headquartered right next to the highway’s proposed path:
    https://portal.iuoelocal150.org/Pages/Default.aspx

    It’s simply pork, in other words. Buying a few years of nice construction jobs so as to win another term in the governor’s office. (And by “buying” of course we mean putting onto the state’s metaphorical credit-card tab.)

  • Coolebra

    Apart from making a motion that does not prevail, I don’t think they’ll try.

    Done deal in terms of incorporating into the plan update, not a done deal when it comes to funding it.

    I could be surprised, though . . .

  • C Monroe

    just ran across this, the Indiana tollroad company has filed for bankruptcy might be on streetsblog tomorrow…http://www.southbendtribune.com/news/local/it-s-official-toll-road-files-bankruptcy/article_da98962e-f0b5-5465-bfcd-289e7c9103fa.html?mode=jqm

  • I’m sorry for the delay.

    1. The board and policy committee are voting separately on whether to *approve* the plan’s required update.

    2. The policy committee itself gets to set the supermajority rule.

    3. The board can remove the Illiana from GO TO 2040 but as it currently stands the policy committee has the final say. I reported earlier this month that ELPC is suing IDOT and CMAP on the grounds that this violates state law. State law says that the policy committee cannot vote on what the board votes down (meaning that last year, after the board voted down amending the plan to include Illiana the policy committee wouldn’t get a chance to vote).

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