Will Transit Reps Repeat Their Misguided Support for the Illiana Tomorrow?

Even though the Illiana will be tolled, taxpayers who never drive on the highway will pay for it. Graphic: Metropolitan Planning Council

Funding for major Chicagoland transit projects will be at stake tomorrow, when regional representatives convened by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning vote on whether to move forward with the Illiana Tollway. Even though approving the Illiana will jeopardize CTA and Metra improvements by adding competition for the same pot of funds, all four Chicagoland transit agencies – and the Chicago Department of Transportation – either voted for the project or abstained in an advisory vote earlier this month.

If the 19 members of CMAP’s Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Committee vote to include the Illiana on the list of fiscally constrained projects in the GO TO 2040 regional plan, it would mean that the Illinois Department of Transportation can proceed with planning and design of the job-exporting highway while IDOT continues negotiations with businesses to craft a public-private partnership that all Illinois taxpayers would pay for until 2053.

The CTA and CDOT reps are likely to vote no tomorrow, since Mayor Rahm Emanuel has come out against the highway, saying, “I don’t see the Illiana is in the self-interest of the City of Chicago from a competitive standpoint.” In fact, it’s also against the interests of those who live in all the counties around Chicago, because IDOT has predicted it will take away residents and jobs.

Active Transportation Alliance is asking its members to take action and tell Metra, Pace, and the Regional Transportation Authority to vote against the Illiana Tollway. All together, the agencies could swing the vote against the Illiana. Active Trans writes that the project would harm transit and the region in two main ways:

Private funding is not going to cover the expressway’s full costs, which leaves taxpayers on the hook for upwards of one billion dollars. The Illiana would leave few transportation dollars available for a long list of CTA and Metra improvements, and two new transit projects—the Red Line south extension to 130th street and the West Loop Transit Center—dimming the prospect that they will ever be built.

Secondly, the Illiana would divert people, commerce, and resources, away from existing urban development—and the enormous transit investments our region has already made in those areas—and promote sprawl in remote areas that are much more difficult and expensive to serve by transit. In fact, as the Chicago Tribune pointed out in an October 7 editorial, the justification for constructing the Illiana — to serve that sprawl — is the very scenario that the GO TO 2040 plan seeks to avoid.

The vote will happen at the CMAP office in Sears Tower at 3 p.m. (RSVP required.)

Updated 23:36: Committee member Rich Kwasneski, representing Pace suburban bus operator, but who is also the executive director of a business development group in the area that would be served by the tollway, says he’ll vote yes.

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