Metra and Pace Vote For Transit-Crushing Illiana Tollway in Advisory Meeting

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IDOT moving full steam ahead on unneeded road building in Illinois. Photo: straightedge217.

Chicago-area transportation organizations are poised to shoot themselves in the foot and harm the region by allowing the Illinois Department of Transportation Department to squander limited transportation infrastructure funds on the $2.75 billion Illiana Tollway. On Friday the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s transportation committee voted to recommend moving forward with this wasteful, destructive project, which promises to suck jobs from Illinois and send them to Indiana. It would create only 940 new jobs over the next thirty years.

Representatives of Metra and Pace, plus Steve Schlickman of UIC’s Urban Transportation Center (possibly motivated by fear of losing state funding), voted yes on an advisory motion to include the Illiana Tollway in the fiscally constrained projects list for CMAP’s GO TO 2040 regional plan. This would allow the highway project to compete for the same small pots of money that fund the transit agencies’ maintenance and expansion projects, as well as research and planning studies.

Max Muller, the Active Transportation Alliance’s director of government relations, was perplexed by the vote. “It makes as much sense as the Illiana Expressway proposal itself: none,” he said. Mueller added that the CTA and Metra voted against their own interests and “against a regional plan that prioritizes multimodal transportation and investment in existing infrastructure.”

On Friday, Stacy Meyers, policy coordinator for Openlands, a conservation group that is one of three organizations suing IDOT over the tollway, told the committee members that they would be unwise to support the project — echoing analysis of the Illiana by the Metropolitan Planning Council and CMAP’s own staff. “Your top projects will be deferred, underfunded or dropped, even if you have been told otherwise,” she said. “There simply isn’t enough money to do everything. We can barely cover what we have agreed to build.”

Reps from the CTA, the Chicago Department of Transportation, the Regional Transportation Authority, and other organizations abstained from voting, effectively handing over their votes to IDOT. Unsurprisingly, the three IDOT reps on the committee voted in favor of the project. The rep from the Illinois Tollway Authority also also voted yes, but that’s not surprising either since the commission enjoys a very secure funding mechanism and unwavering support from the governor’s office. In the end the CMAP committee voted 10 to seven in favor of the project.

Counter-intuitively, some of the most incisive criticism of the vote has come from the pro-road construction website TOLLROADSnews:

We love cars and roads and especially tollroads and in policy fights like this usually find ourselves on the ‘build-it’ side and against road opponents.

We don’t have much time for planners or reverence for longterm plans. There’s a pretension of extraordinary prescience in any plan for 2040! But they are correct in saying: let’s give priority to solving the problems we know we have now over addressing problems we might or might not have decades ahead.

The Illiana is a very bad road project – quite simply because it will serve so few drivers for the forseeable future, and may never serve sufficient to justify its cost. Resources are better deployed elsewhere.

Meyers also said the Illiana controversy represents a conflict between what the state government wants and what’s actually good for the Chicago area. “[At the center of the debate] is the question of whether our region will stand by the locally-adopted GO TO 2040 plan and rebuff the outside forces of IDOT and the governor who wish to supplant our regional-based values.” When you look at the tollway issue along with IDOT’s fast-tracked $475 million Circle Interchange Expansion project, plus its ban on protected bike lanes on state roads, its clear that IDOT often has a negative influence on Chicagoland transportation planning.

So what if, instead of voting against the region’s and their own interests, Metra, Pace, and the Urban Transportation Center, CDOT, the CTA, and the RTA took a stand by voting against the motion? Smart regional planning would have won by 13 to seven.

Again, this was an advisory vote. The CMAP board will take its own advisory vote this Wednesday morning at 9:30 a.m. at CMAP’s office in in the Sears Tower, 233 South Wacker. You must RSVP to attend. On Thursday, October 17, 3-4 p.m. at Sears Tower, CMAP’s metropolitan planning organization policy committee will take the final vote. Most of the same organizations that voted on Friday to take funding away from transit to pay for this unnecessary, job-sucking tollway will have the opportunity to correct that mistake, because if they do not include the Illiana in GO TO 2040, the project cannot proceed.

Here’s the voting breakdown from Friday:

Organization Vote
Northwestern (urban transportation center) Absent
UIC (urban transportation center) Yes
CMAP Bike/Ped Task Force No
Metropolitan Planning Council No
Center for Neighborhood Technology No
Cook County No
DuPage County Yes
Kane County Yes
Kendall County Absent
Lake County Abstain
McHenry County No
Will County Yes
CDOT Abstain
Council of Mayors No
RTA Abstain
NIRPC (northwestern Indiana MPO) Abstain
SWRPC (southeastern Wisconsin MPO) Absent
IDOT: Division of Public & Intermodal Yes
IDOT: Office of Planning & Programming Yes
Illinois EPA Absent
CTA Abstain
Railroads Absent
Tollway Yes
Metra Yes
Pace Yes
Private Providers Absent
  • Fred

    The Illiana only makes sense if the Peotone airport is built. Don’t even discuss building the road unless/until the airport is built. Also, don’t build the Peotone airport!

  • hj

    How the fuck do we have leadership organizations that are absent, or worse yet, abstain from voting? That is their job correct? If I “excused myself” from a difficult task at work I would get fired for not doing my job. These organizations are supposed to look out for the best interests of their residents and user groups… abstaining from a vote on a $3 billion dollar project is unacceptable.

  • Anne A

    Reps from the CTA, the Chicago Department of Transportation, the
    Regional Transportation Authority, and other organizations abstained
    from voting, effectively handing over their votes to IDOT.

    EXTREMELY disappointing.

  • Joseph Musco

    Crain’s Greg Hinz reported today that Mayor Emanuel is coming out against the Illiana project. “In a related development, sources close to Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he has decided to come out against the Illiana.” Emanuel controls the vote of CDOT and CTA so there is either some change happening or the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.

  • It hardly makes sense to link an airport in Peotone and the Illiana tollway, according to Illinois Department of Transportation secretary Ann Schneider, talking to Crain’s Greg Hinz:

    ‘Ms. Schneider said IDOT, in its traffic projections for Illiana, assumed that the long-proposed starter airport in south suburban Peotone finally will be built, with at least one runway and four terminals. But she said the traffic impact of that is “minimal” because most airport patrons would arrive on other roads, not the Illiana.’

  • Maybe CTA and CDOT are playing a ruse on IDOT.

  • Peter

    It’s politics…. if I vote one way or another, chances are I’m going to tick someone off then I may loose my leadership position (and associated bonus) the next time there is the opportunity for a leadership change.

    Unfortunately reality of the public sector that it pays more to just lay low, keep people happy and not ruffle any feathers. Those that do are too often replaced.

  • Fred

    So she is assuming that most of the airports users would live in the south(west) suburbs with easy access to I57 and not in Lafayette, IN or Bloomington, IL.

  • Fred

    This is the current sad state of American politics. Do nothing rather than anything; hence the current government shutdown. Politicians would rather do nothing other than point fingers than sit down and compromise and cheese off their respective supporters. Eventually this mindset will have to end. The country cannot survive on perpetual inaction.

  • BlueFairlane

    I think that’s a safe assumption. Why, for instance, would somebody in Lafayette go to Peotone instead of Indianapolis? And if for some reason they did want to go to Peotone, there are roads built in straight lines that already cover the distance.

  • Anonymous

    We have leadership organizations? Many seem to be furry little lemming organizations.

    Remember what WXRT cautioned, right?

  • Anonymous


  • Anonymous


    I must admit, though, it would make for one helluva drag strip between I-55 and I-65. Nobody else will be on it.

    The Illiana Dragway. sunday. SUNDAY. SUN-DAY!!!

    *Some of you may be old enough to get the 3X Sunday reference.

  • Kurtis Pozsgay

    I was thinking the same thing. 6 absent for an important vote is unacceptable (including Illinois EPA!!!). But the 5 abstains may be even more frustrating. You abstain when you have an interest that the other members don’t share. These organizations shouldn’t have been allowed to abstain, which they basically used as a means to sidestep the vote. I wish Chairs of these organizations would put their foot down and force a commitment one way or the other. Don’t let these organizations sidestep hard decisions.

    It definitely feels like this project is going to be forced down everyone’s throats. God forbid we listen to the staff or their extensive research or their “facts.”

  • Alex Oconnor

    2.75 billion would buy an awful lot of subway. And that subway would carry far more people than the illiana ever will.

  • Alex Oconnor

    Stuff like this makes me want to leave this region and head for one of the coasts.

  • Fred

    I am assuming a Peotone airport would be a major international airport with many direct flights and not a smaller regional airport. Bigger airport, fewer hops, more direct flights. I am also assuming that people in Lafayette are already using Chicago airports. ( confirms this)

    I’m not claiming the road wouldn’t be overlap, but if built, I guarantee you people would take it over 55mph state routes with stop lights and towns.

  • BlueFairlane

    According to mapquest, the distance from Lafayette to Peotone on current roads which roughly parallel the route the Illiana would take is 98 miles. The distance from Lafayette to Indianapolis International Airport–which is as large as the newby Peotone airport will be in any plan I’ve seen and already offers as many direct flights as we can expect in Peotone–is 66 miles. I don’t know how many people take that bus from Perdue to O’Hare, but I would bet the number is small. Based on the number of trips offered, it’s not significantly higher than the number of people who take it from Lafayette to Urbana.

    As for the route from Bloomington, the distance from 55 to Peotone over state routes with stoplights and towns is 22 miles, though the number of stoplights or towns is very small. I often do that road in about 20 minutes. The theoretical increase in traffic from people in Bloomington flying out of Peotone won’t justify a new interstate.

  • BlueFairlane

    550 million $5 footlongs, to be exact.

  • Anonymous

    But a footlong is not a foot long. They learned marketing from IDOT.

  • Anna Schibrowsky

    Ms. Schneider is full of it. According to The Tribune, IDOT is trying to arrange public-private funding for both the Peotone Airport and the Illiana Expressway. The Trib’s Monique Garcia writes:

    “Even if the FAA approves, it’s unclear how much activity would take place at a Peotone airport. Major airlines have long taken a stand against the airport, saying it could hurt the O’Hare International Airport expansion project. Quinn argues that a third airport is needed not just for passenger travel but for transporting cargo.”

    Cargo. This would be a regional airport attached to a short tollway that would both benefit the BNSF Intermodal and Walmart distribution facilities at the Joliet Arsenal site. If BNSF and Walmart want their own road and their own airport, they should fund it with private-private funding and leave IDOT money for smarter infrastructure investments.

    @Fred, Again citing that Trib article, this would be a “third regional airport.” People in Bloomington, IL, will still be better served by the existing Peoria airport, which offers commercial flights to vacation destinations and hubs including O’Hare and is only 40 miles from Bloomington versus 102 miles to Peotone – with no Joliet-area traffic jams.

    Until someone builds another O’Hare nearby, international students and visiting academics at Purdue and U of I will always use O’Hare, and there will be a market for shuttles between them. In my limited experience, regional airports don’t offer the best fares, so it’s often cheaper to fly into a major airport and take a shuttle to a destination that has its own regional airport, anyway.

  • Fred

    O’Hare being the “first regional airport” and Midway being the “second regional airport”? I think the article means the “third airport in the Chicago region”, not that it would be a regional airport.

    I am against both projects, as stated in my original post. I agree, if Walmart and BNSF want to build a private road, let them.

  • Kevin M

    Quinn’s pushing this to build broader support from south suburban right-leaning politicians & their constituents just in time for his reelection campaign. If he supported a massive transit Chicago-based transit project, the rest of the state would cry that he’s not doing enough to throw jobs their way. So he pushes a big, unnecessary roads project to appease them. What a politician!

    I’ve been a supporter of Quinn for a long time, but he has lost my vote.

  • Anonymous

    Ugh, that stupid airport crap that won’t die. The proponents point to other “far out” airports like Dulles and Denver, but neglect to point out the Peotone is much, much farther from the Loop than those airports are from their respective city centers. The airlines don’t want Peotone, the only people that do are the land speculators who want to get paid and the politicians they’ve bought

  • Are Rockford and Gary airports (the former having shuttles to Chicago and O’Hare and the latter having rail transit access) not considered regional airports?

  • Fbfree

    All one needs to do is compare Dorval and Mirabel airports in Montreal to show a white elephant in the making.
    Mirabel was built as a replacement for Dorval Airport way out in the boonies. It never worked.

  • Neither Rockford nor Gary can get any major national airline interested in running scheduled service through them. Gary briefly had one airline running very small planes (the two-engines-on-the-tail regional jets, ERJs or similar) from them something like 12 flights a week, but they gave up after a few months, dooming Gary’s attempt to reconstruct, rebrand, and snag some of the south-suburbs-and-farther-out traffic from O’Hare and Midway. Rockford has never managed to do much past charter planes.

    If I recall correctly, Gary has enough runway to land things bigger than commuter jets, if any company were interested in doing that …

  • My stepfather worked for the company that did the environmental impact statements for the competing ‘third airport’ sites, back in the early 90s, so I was party to some inside-baseball talk at the dinner table that may be pertinent.

    If one believes that a third world-class, large-airplanes-landing-all-day airport is ‘needed’ by the bottom-of-Lake-Michigan-region’s economy, the only really feasible place TO put it is Peotone, because Lake Calumet (which was another choice) or the northish suburbs one (which I forget exactly; it was knocked out early because nobody wanted to sell them the land for cheap) are too close, geometrically, to the existing stacks of waiting-in-line airplanes for Midway and O’Hare. Airspace infrastructure set-asides, as it were.

    If there’s going to be one, Peotone is really the only good option anywhere near Chicago. Which leaves out whether there needs to be one at all, of course. Gary would much rather we just used THEM, but, um, IL governors would rather have the tax revenue, so they never want to get behind a ‘colonize Gary Airport and utilize it to the hilt!’ movement.

  • Mild correction: Mirabel was built that far out specifically to serve SSTs — to get the sonic booms farther out from town. And then the projected “Take Concorde to Paris or London for the weekend!” business never materialized.

    Makes a great place to film movies taking place in airport terminals, though, now …

  • BlueFairlane

    Also, neither Dulles nor DIA are competing with two pre-existing, well-established airports far closer to their city centers and well-served by public transportation. Reagan National is not O’Hare.

  • Anna Schibrowsky

    I was thinking the other two regional airports were Chicago Executive Airport and either Waukegan Regional Airport or DuPage Airport. Wikipedia lists these as “reliever airports,” which it explains “are designated by the FAA to relieve congestion
    at a large commercial service airport and to provide more general
    aviation access to the overall community.”

  • Anonymous

    Mirabel – 35 miles from central Montreal.
    Peotone – 45 miles from Loop

  • Anonymous

    The original dreams of the land speculators was to close down O’Hare, DIA was their model (replacing the much closer Stapleton). But even as far out as DIA is, it’s only 27 miles from central Denver, not 45.

  • Anonymous

    Those comparisons are pretty bad. While Dulles isn’t super close to downtown DC, it’s very close to the giant office corridor in Reston and McLean. It’s not in the middle of nowhere like Peotone. And DIA, the only major new airport that’s been built in the last 30 years, was *replacing* Stapleton, so unlike Peotone, it’s still the only option when flying to/from Denver.

  • Anonymous

    The land speculators will tell you that Dulles helped develop that corridor in Reston/McLean, when built it was in the middle of nowhere. They also initially dreamed that Peotone would replace O’Hare, so the comparison to Denver would be correct in that case.

  • Adam Herstein

    Well, we all know that the state ignores GO TO 2040 anyway (the Circle Interchange project), so the fact that the Iliana is not part of that plan is meaningless.

  • Adam Herstein

    How about building out rail in Chicago (where the majority of Illinois’ citizens live) and expanding Amtrak service downstate?

  • Adam Herstein

    I recommend the west one. ;-)

  • Adam Herstein

    Your job as a politician is not to get re-elected, it is to act in the best interests of the people you are serving. Someone is always going to get pissed off. We need to start enacting one term limits for ALL members of public office – especially for that clusterfuck we call Congress.

  • Driver

    Build this road! I can’t wait to drive it and avoid the I-80/94 mess. Any road that helps me avoid driving in the Chicago area is a good road. This will also ease congestion for those who still continue to drive I-80/94 too. It’s a good project. Build it.

  • BlueFairlane

    I wouldn’t want to divert the conversation too far off topic, but can you imagine how many more tea people we’d have in the Senate right now with one-term limits? That’s a weakness of the term limits proposal, as it makes government much more susceptible to the public’s momentary whims.

  • BlueFairlane

    The Illiana takes drivers almost 40 miles out of their way to avoid the 80-94 corridor, and then plops them back onto it while still in the mess. Covering the extra distance, assuming you’re doing 70 the whole way despite the state trooper who always hangs out around the Shorewood-Joliet exit, would add 47 minutes to your drive. I know 80-90 gets backed up, but it’s rare for it to get much more than 47 minutes backed up.

  • Fred

    By that logic, wouldn’t you have to include Waukegan Regional Airport, Joliet Regional Airport, and Kenosha Regional Airport?

  • Anonymous

    Where will you be coming from and going to, Driver?

  • Anonymous

    For real, man.

    Note even a trucker would do that, and that is the traffic people are pointing to as prospective users.

  • Fred

    Except for truckers going to/from the Joliet arsenal site.

  • Anonymous

    They don’t need the Illiana for that. The Centerpoint Joliet Arsenal facility is barely off of existing I-55 exits, which is one of the reasons they selected the site. Centerpoint knew points of access when they built, so Illiana can’t be critical (or even important) to their success.

    That written, yeah, I suppose truck traffic headed east from there may hop on a new Illiana expressway to head east, but we don’t need a multi-billion dollar expressway and long-term PPP with all sorts of profit guarantees to serve traffic to and from a single Centerpoint facility.

  • Fred

    I don’t disagree with you, just pointing out that not all expected users are “through” users as your argument implies.

  • Fred

    Agreed. If this were truly going to bypass the metro Chicago traffic problem, it would have to go all the way to South Bend. Traffic from the west is not going to go to 40 miles out of the way just to be plopped back into 65/80/90/94 mess and continue east.

  • BlueFairlane

    Additionally, 80 from the west is running at roughly the same latitude as the Illiana until it hits Morris, where it jumps north about 12 miles, then keeps shifting northward the further east it goes. So eastbound traffic wanting to use the Illiana would actually be jumping 12 miles north, dropping another 15 miles south to Wilmington, then heading north again about 20 miles on I-65 from Lowell to Hammond, where it gets caught in an eternally-backed-up ramp to take people back to the highway where they started out.


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