The Illiana Tollway is a solution in search of a problem, and the Illinois DOT’s final document in preparation to receive federal approval to build the tollway is a case study in backwards transportation planning. IDOT’s playbook went like this: Design a new road, have consultants review traffic patterns on existing roads to find issues to underpin the rationale for the new road, then rally political support for the road around those issues.
With the release of IDOT’s “Tier 2 Environmental Impact Statement” to the feds, we can see the agency tell the feds that a four-lane, 47-mile long tolled highway will solve problems that will spring up only because of the construction of the same highway.
IDOT had already completed the route and an environmental impact study of the Illiana when the agency convinced the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s MPO Policy Committee to approve the project, even though that vote went against the intent of the GO TO 2040 regional plan, which CMAP itself had crafted in collaboration with hundreds of municipalities and dozens of partner organizations.
CMAP staff and its board – but not Metra and Pace – all rejected the Illiana because the proposed road was in conflict with a principle tenet in GO TO 2040: Population and job growth should be encouraged in already developed areas alongside public infrastructure investments in these areas. The Illiana Tollway takes the region in precisely the opposite direction — building new infrastructure where very few people live, then spurring population and job growth in that previously undeveloped area.
Now that IDOT has designed the road, it has to tell the federal government why the Illiana is the best solution for a problem. This is the point when IDOT finally devises the problem, and does so in a way that the Illiana Tollway becomes the only reasonable solution.
The problem statement in the Tier 2 EIS says that new growth along the proposed project corridor will lead to congestion, so a new road, the Illiana Tollway, is needed to alleviate it. This would be the same new road that IDOT’s consultants say a huge number of people in the area will avoid because of the tolls that will likely be charged while other highways remain free. Read more…