MPC: Funding the Illiana Expressway Would Be a Big Mistake

Graphic: MPC

The Metropolitan Planning Council, a non-profit promoting economic development strategies for Chicagoland, has come out strongly against the Illiana Expressway, a 47-mile highway the Illinois Department of Transportation has proposed for the rural communities of southern Will County and northwestern Indiana. MPC released a statement yesterday highlighting numerous shortcomings in IDOT’s proposal, including vague financing plans and the overall failure to address the region’s transportation needs.

As Streetsblog reported, IDOT needs a vote of approval from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning to spend money on the Illiana, which was not included on the list of “fiscally constrained projects” in the GO TO 2040 regional plan.

Making its case against the project, MPC cites the uncertain cost to taxpayers of building and maintaining the road and criticizes the kind of public-private partnership that IDOT is exploring, called an “availability payment”:

A likely P3 scenario would leverage an availability payment, through which a private company agrees to finance capital costs in exchange for guaranteed payments from the public sector over a defined period. This model puts the public sector at risk; if collected toll revenues fall below expectations, the government must find a way to pay the financing company its guaranteed annual payment.

To jumpstart construction, taxpayers “will likely need to provide more than two-thirds of Illinois’ share of the capital costs of the Illiana,” according to CMAP’s analysis. If the Illiana gobbles up those public funds, it could jeopardize funding for six other projects in the GO TO 2040 plan, MPC warns. Those six projects are: extending the CTA Red Line to 130th Street; extending IL-53 as a boulevard; constructing the West Loop Transportation Center; building the I-294/I-57 Interchange; taking Elgin-O’Hare Expressway to O’Hare and building West O’Hare Bypass; and now building the Circle Interchange.

Failed financing for rural toll roads
Failed financing for rural toll roads around the nation. Image from ##'s Q&A##.

MPC went so far as to find eight projects in GO TO 2040 that, added together, would equal the $950 million in public and private dollars that IDOT wants to devote to the Illiana. These included transit extension and road widening projects like adding lanes to Eisenhower and extending the Metra Electric into Will County, close to where the Illiana would be.

IDOT is mounting a campaign for the highway, publishing a brochure [PDF] in response to CMAP’s skeptical report on the project.

In the brochure IDOT purports to offer “a close look at the Illiana Facts.” For example, IDOT says the project is “strongly supported by stakeholders across the study area.” That’s to be expected when both CMAP and IDOT project more jobs for those areas, at the expense of already-urbanized areas surrounding Chicago. But according to MPC’s analysis of IDOT’s studies, only 940 net new jobs would be created in the region, while jobs would shift from Cook County and nearby counties to Indiana. IDOT’s own analysis, MPC writes, shows the Chicago region losing 5,000 jobs and 7,000 people with a “rough equivalent” number relocating to Indiana. Is this how IDOT should be allocating scarce transportation dollars?

The brochure says the Illiana Expressway “would be a strong trucking corridor.” Again, this provides no regional context. MPC notes that, according to IDOT’s own forecast: “[the] Illiana would do little to relieve congestion, reducing vehicle hours of travel in…areas south of I-80…by just 1.08 percent and reducing regional truck hours by less than 1.0 percent.” IDOT’s project studies show that very little truck traffic actually terminates in Indiana and is instead headed to Michigan and Ohio, north of the Illiana corridor. These truckers would scarcely save any time using the new highway, even when traffic on it is completely free-flowing.

IDOT has also complained to CMAP [PDF] that if the regional agency doesn’t vote to allow the project, then $40 million in planning would be lost. But that’s the nature of planning: You study whether or not something is worth building, and how it would be built. If, in the end, it’s not worth building, then the planning was still worthwhile because it prevented the much larger expense of building an unjustifiable major highway.

On October 9, members of three CMAP committees and the executive board will vote on the Illiana project. Will they again let IDOT muscle in a costly project with weak regional benefits, pushing other priorities out of the way?

  • Chicagio

    Even more than the Ashland BRT, this project’s future will be a telling sign if planning in this state has moved to the 21st century or IDOT and the corrupt unions and rural governments that control it will continue to destroy the Chicago area.

  • Ryan Lakes

    If CMAP doesn’t vote to allow the project, and $40 million in planning is lost, someone is responsible for that loss too.

    Who’s silly idea was the Illiana in the first place, and who was cowardly or corrupt enough to go along with them so far? The loss of that money goes on their record and they should be fired or reprimanded so that they damn sure learn from their mistake. That’s how it works.

    That the planning money would be lost should have absolutely no consequence on the vote, and besides, that money won’t have been for nothing because it “created jobs.”

    Does IDOT consult with CMAP throughout the planning process? What were the outcome of those interactions?

    If not, IDOT approaching them for the first time with a plan that $40 million of planning has already been spent on should be made unlawful. If CMAP has to approve it now, they should have had some say over whether or not the study should be done in the first place to reduce the risk of a downvote in the future.

  • CL

    “extending the CTA Red Line to 130th Street”

    Yes!!! We need this. It’s ridiculous that the far south side is not served by the L at all. Having a reasonable CTA option for trips beyond 95th would make me so happy.

  • Chicagio

    I think IDOT generally resents CMAP’s existence. In many ways, I think the fact that CMAP was necessary represents decades of almost universal failure by IDOT. When is the last time IDOT prescribed anything but adding lanes to highways or building new ones?

  • HJ

    The Red Line extension is a boondoggle. $1.5 billion dollars to serve a corridor that already has parallel service via the Metra Electric. A better use of money would be a restructuring of regional transportation bodies and the implementation of a cohesive regional plan, one that utilizes existing ROW to their full capacity. There is no reason why the ME could not have its frequency increased and accept $2.50 Fares from Ventra users with the city limits.

  • Alex Oconnor

    I actually do not remember right now; was Dennis Hastert involved? Like the “prairie parkway”?

  • I think Metra and CTA fares should be aligned within the city limits (

    I also think if the ME is to be considered a viable alternative to the red line, it must run more frequently than Metra does now. Metra is still largely a commuter service serving the Loop, and its scheduled are planned as such.

  • Keep in mind that capacity at Millennium Station is a constraint on additional frequency along the ME. I also think the Red Line would provide better connectivity than the ME.

  • Anonymous

    Nobody will be accountable – that’s why we get one terrible highway investment after the next.

    IDOT has no accountability for outcomes.

  • Anonymous

    CATS, the IDOT mini-me, is still a force in CMAP. While CATS and NIPC were merged by state statute to encourage improved planning linkages between land use and transportation planning, oil and water don’t mix well.

  • Chicagio

    Coolebra – Do you recall who was the driving force behind the merge? For some reason, I seem to remember that IDOT was not too happy about loosing a grip on it’s planning clout.

  • Anonymous

    The bill was HB 03121 in the 94th General Assembly. Chief Sponsor in the House was Suzanne Basi. I’d have to guess that MPC, Campaign for Sensible Growth, and others may have been involved in calling for improved regional collaboration and planning.

    Other legislative sponsors:

    House Sponsors

    Rep. Suzanne Bassi – Julie Hamos – Sidney H. Mathias – David E. Miller – Michael Tryon, Kathleen A. Ryg, Elizabeth Coulson, Carolyn H. Krause, John J. Millner, Robin Kelly, Harry Osterman, Robert W. Churchill, Kenneth Dunkin, Roger Jenisch, Joseph M. Lyons, Michelle Chavez, Sandra M. Pihos, Karen May, Cynthia Soto, Ed Sullivan, Jr., Patricia R. Bellock, Eddie Washington, Elaine Nekritz, Patricia Reid Lindner, William Davis, Milton Patterson, Patricia Bailey, Constance A. Howard, Shane Cultra and Timothy L. Schmitz

    Senate Sponsors

    Sen. Debbie DeFrancesco Halvorson – Dave Sullivan – Susan Garrett – Terry Link

    The Public Act is here:

    HB 3121 history is here (assuming the links stay good and they are not tied to a single user session):

  • CL

    Metra doesn’t make up for a lack of L service. It’s not just an issue of frequency (that too, though) but also having to deal with transferring. If the red line went to 130th, I could get there in a straight line from Rogers Park for $2.25. When the only option is Metra, I just drive.

  • Because the CTA runs red line trains frequently all day and night, and Metra thinks 2 hours apart on weekends is just fine?

    Metra is not a proper transit system, it’s a ‘get suburbanites to downtown jobs’ system, and it doesn’t pretend to be anything else.

  • Ted King

    CTA’s page for the Red Line Extension :

    CMAP’s page for the The CTA Red Line South Extension :

    A quick look at the proposed routing (CMAP page) showed me that this is part infill transit (first three stations) and an extension into new territory (130th St.). If one wants to trim parallel lines (HJ‘s comment) how about the Metra pair off to the west (Rock Island District) ? [Yes, I know, sacred cow city.]

    I’ve read stories about Metra’s foot dragging. Maybe a little competition might get them off their butts.

  • HJ

    HENCE why I was suggesting increasing frequency. The right of way already exists, the tracks already exist, the stations already exist, the equipment already exists, the service already exists… it all just needs to be better utilized. Why build something from scratch when a viable alternative already exists and only needs better management?

  • HJ

    Why on earth would we trim existing service only to spend $1.5 billion dollars constructing a parallel service with fewer access points in a corridor already paralleled by yet another transit line?

    Up the frequency, change the inner city fare structure, accept Ventra payment, and develop adequate transfer stations that accept direct transfers. For a $1.5 billion dollar investment you could add 20+ stations instead of 4.

  • HJ

    So we pander to the mythical Howard to 130th single seat rider?

    Transfers can always be improved. Align stations with each other, accept ride transfers, etc. It should be about increasing connectivity as much as possible. The Red Line extension doesn’t do much for the pricetag.

  • Metra has no interest whatsoever in increasing frequency on any line, so far as I can tell, even independent of any outside-limiting factors (sharing tracks, limited space in stations, whatever).

  • Except all those changes are predicated upon the assumption “Metra wants to serve those customers in that way,” which is provably false. Metra wants to truck people in from Kane County former-farmland (and suchlike) to downtown, at stated times of the day, and then take them home. That’s all the mission they’re interested in.

  • Dlg

    The Illiana plan does not jeopardize the other projects. These “reports” postulate that taxpayers may be responsible for 2/3 the cost. Misleading but indirectly has some truth as the taxpayers will pay for the Illiana over the course of 30 to 40 years. What these “reports” fail to mention is advantage of using the p3 contract model, allowing a project to go forward now with long term financing. Many here mention the Red Line extension- please note that the CTA is investigating the use of a P3 contract for this project. The reality is our state has no money and if we want to continue to see projects like the Illiana or the Red Line extension go forward, we will need to consider alternate financing. The Illiana makes sense as a means for our state to collect tolls from truckers who are not going into Chicago but are moving freight across our state. Stopping this project accomplishes nothing except stopping our progress as a state to get out of the mess we are in.

  • HJ

    So spending $3+ billion dollars on a roadway that runs parallel to the major freight route through NE Illinois and NW Indiana without ever connecting to it is the progress we need to eliminate our budget woes?

    No one wants the Illiana, no one needs the Illiana. MPC is clearing showing as much. If the goal is to raise revenue and free up more roadspace for interstate freight then the answer should be to turn I80/I55/I290 into tollways once they reach the Metro area.

  • HJ

    You must have missed the part where I said “restructuring of regional transportation bodies”

    I am well aware of Metra’s current priorities.

  • HJ

    You must have missed the part where I said “restructuring of regional transportation bodies”

    I am well aware of Metra’s current priorities and shortcomings.

  • Dlg

    $3 billion is not the projected cost and pretty debatable. Not sure comparing road construction in Virginia or California really applies as each is different in combination of interchanges, bridges, etc. I don’t believe that’s an accurate number. IDOT routinely projects costs of construction and has to live within a budget so I think their estimate is more right than wrong. Speculation.

    The Illiana would connect to I-55 and I-65, major freight routes. I do agree tollways are unfortunately, probably our future as user fees seem a good option to continue to fund roads. In this case, much of the truck traffic does not need, nor want to reach the metro area. Let’s take advantage of that. This is a unique opportunity to use private financing. If we kill it, it doesn’t gain us the money in the short term. It just stops potential growth south of Chicago.

  • CL

    She’s not mythical — I would ride it from Morse to about 123rd for work when I can’t / won’t drive. But the point isn’t just to serve north siders who want to go there — I bet there are a lot of people living south of 95th who feel the same way that I do, and would find the CTA much more reasonable and convenient if they could get directly on the red line rather than taking a bus to 95th.

  • CL

    Currently, the public transit options from my place to 123rd are 2 hours (according to Google Maps). I bet it would be just over an hour if I could take the red line all the way down.

  • Right now a lot of southsiders get onto the Red Line by taking a long bus ride — and the 95th street bus terminal is INSANELY over capacity right now, tangled up with so many busses terminating there so people can connect to the Red Line. It would make the whole system work much better if those busses could just come east on their street and stop at a red line station there, instead of having to turn north and fight north/south traffic too.

    Metra is not an option for people who live at Pulaski and 112th — they need to take a bus in to the Red Line to get to actual rapid transit.

  • Anonymous

    The very first thing about the project– the name “illiana expressway” (or, variously, Illiana Corridor” is a lie of omission. Heretofore, the pols have at least been honest enough to call a tollway a tollway. No more!

    This private corporate tollway, with its companion project the unneeded Peotone airport, would waste billions and extend suburbia all the way to Kankakee with no real benefit. We really need some actual ideas to get industry and jobs happening in the region — not just blue sky panaceas from the special interests who are going to profit.

  • “The Illiana makes sense as a means for our state to collect tolls from truckers who are not going into Chicago but are moving freight across our state. ”

    What makes better sense is tolling the non-tolled highways in and around Chicago in such a way that eases truck traffic by reducing non-freight and non-essential traffic.

  • I only call it the Illiana Tollway in my articles to stress the nature of how it’s being identified as being paid for. However, it will be the state’s taxpayers backing the private vendor’s investment, not the tolls.

  • This issue of who has authority has returned:

    “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.”


Rauner Takes a Second, Hopefully Final, Step to Kill the Illiana

Yesterday, Governor Bruce Rauner drove a second stake into the heart of the Illiana Tollway, a sprawl-inducing highway proposed for rural Illinois and Indiana, just south of metropolitan Chicago. Rauner’s office issued a press release slamming a new state budget passed by Democratic leaders as fiscally irresponsible. In response to the budget, the Republican governor announced he will […]

Rauner Authorizes More Illiana Spending to “Wind Down” Project

Governor Bruce Rauner signed a bill last week that authorizes spending $5.5 million more on the Illiana Tollway, a month after he announced he was suspending the project. The Illiana would have been a new highway a couple miles south of the existing Chicago metropolitan region that would have encouraged suburban sprawl. Tolls would have been […]

Seven Ways to Stop The Illiana Boondoggle

Two votes yesterday by a committee of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, Chicagoland’s federally-designated regional planning organization, have cemented CMAP’s approval of the sprawl-inducing, budget-busting Illiana Tollway. Since federal transportation dollars can only be spent on projects included in an adopted regional plan, this gives Governor Pat Quinn and the Illinois Department of Transportation the consent […]

Environmental Groups Charge Illiana Illegally Bypassed CMAP

The Illiana Expressway encountered a potential roadblock in the form of a lawsuit filed last Thursday. Three environmental groups filed the lawsuit: the Environmental Law & Policy Center, representing Openlands and the Sierra Club. The lawsuit [PDF] alleges that IDOT circumvented the proper approval process to get the tollway past a crucial review. On October […]