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Illiana Spurned Again By CMAP Board, Faces Another Vote Tomorrow

Elliott Hartstein, CMAP board member, speaks agains the Illiana Tollway
Elliott Hartstein, CMAP board vice chairman, says the Illiana is fiscally irresponsible. Photo: Steven Vance

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning's board again passed on the Illiana Tollway, keeping the project in limbo until another meeting tomorrow morning. The board overwhelmingly voted, 10-4, to strip the Illiana from a broader package of updates to the GO TO 2040 regional plan, and then to veto those updates entirely. However, CMAP board votes require a 12-3 supermajority vote to pass, so both motions still failed. The plan updates, and the Illiana, remain outside GO TO 2040.

The Illiana is still in play, and would be regardless of the board’s actions. Confusingly, it isn’t the board but rather CMAP’s MPO Policy committee that has final say, and that committee will vote tomorrow on whether to approve the GO TO 2040 plan update. They may make their own motion to exclude the Illiana Tollway from the plan before voting, or approve the plan update as-is.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center is even suing CMAP and IDOT to force CMAP to recognize the board’s greater authority. Board chair Gerald Bennett, mayor of south suburban Palos Hills, said today that CMAP's bylaws require that the board and policy committee meet together, "to find consensus, to be on the same page." However, acting IDOT secretary Erica Borggren went ahead and split the proposed joint meeting.

The four voting in favor of the Illiana represent Will, Kane, DuPage, and south Cook County (one of five Cook seats). One member, representing Chicago, was absent.

27 people spoke to the board imploring them to keep the Illiana out of the plan. Most of their comments focused on the burden to taxpayers resulting from the so-called “public-private partnership” that will build the road. IDOT has said that taxpayers would pony up a minimum of $500 million, with the first half going to buy land and relocate utilities.

The second half would be allocated as the first of many "availability payments" to the firm IDOT selects to build the highway. In short, the vaunted “PPP” is just another road-building contract.

Bennett said that any illusions that the Illiana would be a PPP are gone: "We indicated prior to voting last year that it wouldn’t make it as a PPP." IDOT later admitted it would be subsidizing the project, he said, "so it’s no longer a PPP."

Bennett pointed out that former IDOT secretary Ann Schneider – who resigned from office this year when Governor Pat Quinn cleaned house after a patronage hiring scandal – said her agency would "pull the plug" if the financing terms were unfavorable.

Elliott Hartstein, vice chair of the board and former mayor of Buffalo Grove, said that while "the concept of a PPP is a good thing," the board doesn't have clear answers from IDOT about the Illiana’s actual cost, whether to toll payers or Illinois taxpayers. He called on Governor Quinn "and his challenger" to "have the courage of fiscal responsibility" and to stop the project.

Mayor Jim Holland of south suburban Frankfort spoke in support of building the Illiana Tollway, saying it was needed to support the growth of freight intermodal facilities in Will County, and that the board needs to think about the whole region. Hartstein turned that point on its head, saying that the whole region's best interest is served by axing the Illiana.

Kyle Whitehead, a campaign manager at the Active Transportation Alliance, said it wasn't all about finances. He explained that the Illiana Tollway violates GO TO 2040’s "core principles," adding "experience shows building new highways, particularly in exurbs, will lead to investment that will promote more driving." These kinds of developments, he said, don't lend themselves to efficient transportation options like walking, bicycling, and transit.

Virginia Hammon said that building the Illiana would destroy 175-year-old family farms and create a "Berlin wall effect,” bisecting communities and disconnecting through routes.

Paul Botts, a lifelong Cook County resident, reminded the board that events since their vote last year disapproving the Illiana have all "served to discredit the process." He asked the board to "stick to your guns and take this thing out of the plan -- again."

Other items in the failed plan update include new estimates of project costs, and a recommendation to study the Chicago CrossRail proposal.

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