Yesterday, 11 members of the Metropolitan Planning Organization policy committee, including Metra and Pace, voted to add the Illiana Tollway to the GO TO 2040 regional plan. This enables the Illinois DOT and Indiana DOT to move forward with the project approvals necessary to receive federal funds.
It also sets the stage for huge sums to be siphoned from GO TO 2040′s existing transportation project list — including transit investments — which is supposed to focus future growth in existing communities. In a scathing response, the Active Transportation Alliance today singled out Metra and Pace for voting against the interests of transit riders.
At the meeting, when it was time to talk about the Illiana, IDOT Secretary Ann Schneider joked to the overflow crowd, “Now we’re on the least controversial agenda item.” She pointed to a stack of the letters from BNSF (owner of an intermodal yard near the proposed tollway) and the many state representatives and senators who wrote in after the public comment period. No one had time to actually review the letters before casting their vote.
Randy Blankenhorn, executive director of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, which oversees the GO TO 2040 regional plan, reiterated why CMAP staff recommended against funding the project. In addition to pointing out how the Illiana is at odds with GO TO 2040, Blankenhorn emphasized that IDOT overstated the share of intermodal truck and railroad traffic in Will County — where the highway would cut through — compared to other places in the region, and that IDOT is forecasting greater population growth in Will County than GO TO 2040 forecasts.
IDOT justifies the highway by saying it would serve a growing population and truck traffic, but basing new highway construction on such forecasts becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: The road itself attracts more population and freight movement. IDOT is in denial about this. In a document prepared for the Illiana environmental review process [PDF], IDOT claims that “land-use planning is not the role of IDOT/INDOT” and that “IDOT/INDOT is not driving land use.” While these statements were mostly intended to say that IDOT would not be doing land-use planning on behalf on the communities affected by the Illiana Tollway, IDOT is unequivocally involved in land-use planning, because any transportation project as big as the Illiana is bound to have a major impact on the surrounding area.
As Gary Toth of Project for Public Spaces writes, “some of the most egregious land use issues, both in America and in the world at large, stem from the misguided investment in transportation systems that prioritize high speed mobility. What inevitably follows is spread out development dependent on the automobile for access to critical needs.” By denying this link, IDOT diverges completely from CMAP’s goals. IDOT wants to build on farmland in rural Illinois, while GO TO 2040 says development should occur in existing communities.