Illiana Forced Into CMAP Regional Plan By Springfield, Suburban Reps

CMAP's MPO Policy committee
The MPO Policy Committee listened to a panel of speakers testify this morning. Photo: Steven Vance

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s MPO Policy committee today approved the Illiana Tollway, among other projects, as part of GO TO 2040, which the agency calls “the comprehensive regional plan… for sustainable prosperity through mid-century and beyond.”

Committee members representing Chicago, Cook County, and McHenry County, which together are home to almost two-thirds of Chicago area residents, voted twice against adding the Illiana to the plan. However, they were overruled by representatives from other suburbs and from state agencies. The committee voted twice today: first on a motion to specifically exclude the Illiana from a larger package of GO TO 2040 updates, which failed 10-8 with one abstention, followed by a vote to adopt the update with the Illiana, which passed 12-6 with one abstention.

If the Illiana gets first dibs on state funding, as Governor Pat Quinn and IDOT intend, then those same suburbs will see at least $500 million robbed from the funds that pay for their own infrastructure projects.

Pace continued to stick it to its riders, with its representative supporting the Illiana in both votes. Metra’s representative abstained from voting on both motions, although its vote would not have swung either result. Metra frequently uses IDOT capital funds to purchase new equipment — but, next year, it intends to stick its riders with that bill, hiking fares by 11 to 19 percent.

Erica Borggren, the acting secretary at the Illinois Department of Transportation, began the meeting by introducing herself as an expert in being dropped into unfamiliar situations, like the debate over the tollway. She previously served in the military, but has no prior experience evaluating transportation improvements.

Plan proponents testified to the board that heavy truck traffic, and occasional delays to funeral processions, necessitate the billion-dollar boondoggle. These claims are contrary to the Illinois Department of Transportation’s own studies, which say that high tolls will dissuade truckers and other motorists from using the tollway, so local congestion would be reduced by only one percent.

Other familiar faces spoke against the road. Stacey Meyers from Openlands pointed out that even the pro-industry newsletter Toll Roads News has called the Illiana “a sure fiasco” and “self-evidently a lemon project whose sour aftertaste is certain to discredit tolling and the toll industry.”

CMAP board member Elliott Hartstein, as he did yesterday, warned other committee members and Illinois residents that the Illiana stands on extremely shaky financial footing. He related the financial gamble of building the Illiana to the state’s long debates over expanding gambling.

“We have a situation,” Hartstein warned, “where the deck is stacked in favor of the private vendor.” This project, he said, would cost the state money — rather than bring in money, like a new casino might. The private vendor, yet to be selected, would receive both all of the toll revenues, plus state-guaranteed availability payments when those toll revenues inevitably don’t provide enough profit.

America has seen countless bad toll road deals lately, but the Illiana really takes the cake. It generates few permanent jobs, it contravenes regional needs, it will damage nationally significant habitat, it will undoubtedly cost a fortune, it simply paves the way for sprawl in Indiana – and yet it’s being mollycoddled and pushed forward by Illinois’ elected leaders.

  • JKM13

    Absolutely awful.

  • President Obama would never do this to another democrat but wouldn’t it be kind of fun to watch him use the antiquities act to declare the Midewin area, and just enough of the Illiana route a national monument?

  • This is enough to get me to vote for Bruce Rauner, even though he has been (as seems to be his thing) silent about the project.

    Because it wasn’t Bruce’s idea to waste $1 billion on a jobs program for rural Will County. That’s all on Pat.

  • hello

    I feel like Rauner could totally attack Quinn on this (not sure if it’s in his political best interest…maybe). I’ve not seen any “expert” say this is a good idea, financially feasible, etc. Only those who will directly benefit (financially/politcally) have been singing it’s praises.

    Oh, and I think it will be more than $1 billion – one nearby interchange project was recently $0.8 billion – the Illiana (as proposed) has three, plus 40-some miles of tollway in open prairie.

    Heck, the secretary of IDOT has no prior transportation experience. She’s just an appointee, serving her appointer…

  • Greg

    I do a lot of cycling in the area that this and the Peotone Airport boondoggle will be built in and I just don’t see the truck traffic that this is supposed to get off the country roads. The Will County pols make it sound like it’s bumper to bumper all the time.

  • hello

    I also love how one of the Will County execs said it was needed for safety.

    “6! (not factorial) people died on I-55 this summer in truck related crashes (how about the 696 on all of Illinois’ roads to date) – we need to spend a couple billion dollars on a toll road that will lure truckers with it’s ~$20 toll.” paraphrased

  • John

    I am speechless. WTF?

  • BlueFairlane

    I say this as somebody who was an Obama supporter until he started banging the war drums, but his environmental record is sketchy enough to make me doubt this is something he’d want to do. As much as I love Midewin, I don’t think it quite meets the standard he’s set for the other national monuments he’s declared.

  • I remember him saying that.

  • She mentioned her lack of transportation experience first thing, but she said her experience in the military and running the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs gave her the qualifications to wade through an unfamilliar political and planning situation.

  • Guest

    Silence isn’t golden, it’s safe.

  • Anne A

    Disgusting cowardly action on the part of Pace, benefitting few at great cost to many others. Smelly and dubious at best.

  • what_eva

    You’re presenting this as though it’s new. The Illiana boondoggle got put into the plan last year. This year was an opportunity (though slim) to try to get it removed as part of a regular re-approval of the overall plan.

    My hopes right now lie with the lawsuit that says the Policy Committee shouldn’t have been allowed to vote on adding it last year because the Board had denied it.

  • High_n_Dry

    I’ve been thinking the same thing. Sigh.

  • oooBooo

    There was no other choice for government. Government has two choices.
    1) cut the burden and red tape on the serfs and compete with Indiana. This means they and their friends have to live with less.
    2) Build a road promising it will bring prosperity back while its construction further enriches themselves and their friends and kicking the can on the tough decisions down the road.

    Ok, so they really had one choice and that’s the choice they made.

    Once built, the loss of more productive people to Indiana will leave south eastern cook county in a state of perpetual poverty and government dependence.

    Perhaps that’s the goal.

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