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As IDOT Postpones Illiana Vote, Planners Say the Region Doesn’t Need It

Illiana expressway: jobs will shift from urbanized counties around Chicago to Will County & Indiana

Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider has pushed back a crucial vote about the Illiana Expressway a week to October 17. The vote by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning policy committee will decide if building 47 miles of tolled highway south of the urbanized areas of Chicagoland and into Indiana can proceed.

If the committee votes against including the Illiana in the GO TO 2040 regional plan, federal regulations prevent IDOT from proceeding with this version of the project. The CMAP board will vote first, on October 9, and while that vote is only advisory, it could influence members of the policy committee. Members of the policy committee include the heads of IDOT, the Chicago Department of Transportation, Chicago Transit Authority, Metra, Pace, the Union Pacific railroad, and Illinois Tollway, as well as representatives from two businesses and all seven counties in the CMAP planning region.

Crain's Greg Hinz suspects Schneider's vote delay is to give project boosters more time "to recover from an adverse board vote," but an IDOT spokesperson said it was because not all committee members could attend the October 9 meeting.

As expected, CMAP staff, charged with shepherding the GO TO 2040 regional plan's goal of prioritizing transportation and infrastructure investments in already-developed areas, published a new report today [PDF] that recommends against including the Illiana Expressway. The report calls the project "broadly incompatible with the overall goals and recommendations of GO TO 2040." The report says that an "Illiana Corridor" project was excluded from the plan because of uncertain financing and no cost estimate. "Both these concerns are still quite real and must be addressed," staff write, adding that "public information about the project's funding has not improve substantially" since the plan's adoption in 2010.

A wide range of organizations, public officials, and media outlets have come out to oppose the project, including Metropolitan Planning Council, Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, and the Chicago Tribune, all of whom recognize that the Illiana will not add jobs to the region but suck them away to Indiana. During the 32-day comment period, CMAP received 169 comments supporting the project and 796 opposing it. The Chicago Tribune summarized the project: "For [Governor] Quinn, road construction is less about moving vehicles from Point A to Point B than about creating jobs (and cutting ribbons)."

Shutting down the project will also shield taxpayers from IDOT's risky public-private partnership funding scheme. The CMAP report said that a "significant public contribution" of between $440 million and over $1 billion would be needed to attract private investment to the new highway.

Building the Illiana Expressway would take away funding from projects in already developed areas, with greater economic and transportation benefits, that have already earned spots in the region's plan for the future.

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