EDITORIAL: Yes or no, which is it?

Chicagoland at odds over Illiana Expressway

November 12, 2013

The proposed Illiana Expressway is not like the beaten path to my neighbor’s house.

However, in order to get approval the same process has been executed. When my 8-year-old son wants to go across the street to play with his friend, he’ll ask my wife, and if he’s greeted with a no answer he’ll take it right over to an appeals court, which is whatever room I happen to be roaming. My first response is always the same, “Did you ask your mother?” Sometimes he forgets he took an oath at birth to always tell the truth, but most of the time he’ll reveal the rejection, and wait to hear the gavel to drop with my judgment, which always honors the first verdict.

Those backing the Illiana Expressway, however, did not have to deal with the solidarity of the Wilson household.

For those unfamiliar with the project (we have covered it extensively), the hopeful route is a joint effort between the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Indiana DOT. It is a 47-mile plan that will connect I-55 in southern Will County to I-65 in southern Lake County, Ind. A private investor will most likely come into play and help finance the $1.1 billion project. More on that in a moment. The excursion has been ripped to bits by environmentalists and even a few politicians. In mid-October, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), made up of mayors and representatives from the region’s seven counties, pulled the Illiana Expressway off its agenda by a 10-4 count because it did not follow its own strategic plan, called GOTO 2040. GOTO 2040 promotes investment in roads and other infrastructure close to existing development and is against anything that shows signs of being sprawl. A few members of the CMAP came out and said Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, who might be staring at an election beat-down and is looking for any voting arm that could pull him off the turf, was bullying them. Executing a road project that could generate thousands of jobs just might create that human shield at the ballot box.

However, CMAP’s disapproving thumb put the Illiana on life support, until the other parent stepped in. On Oct. 17, the Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Committee (MPOPC) gave the go-ahead for some construction playtime when it approved Illiana.

Do not ask me to tell you the difference between the CMAP and MPOPC. I honestly would not know where to start, but the problem that is clear in my mind is this: Why is one planning committee being overruled here? The CMAP certainly has a vested interest in the Illiana. Its board members represent those who will be greatly affected—good and bad—by the construction.

Gov. Quinn has been asked to find a way to financially support the new 47-mile stretch. The Illinois DOT said it was going to attempt to woo a private investor and claims by 2053 the Illiana toll road will pay for itself. Now that indeed could be quite the stretch. Opponents say there is not enough traffic that is demanding the Illiana. As far as car count, they might be right, but I do know commercial truckers just might benefit greatly with such a connection. The route around Lake Michigan (I-90/94/80) is one of the most congested in the U.S. and is filled with the multiaxled beasts. If the truckers are willing to pay the price, it could provide some needed relief. The population growth of the region also should bump up car traffic, but will a toll road be their answer?

Pros and cons aside, I do not like the way this has all been handled. The focus should always be on projects that a majority want and need. As for the Illiana, take it from a parent, no means no. R&B

Bill Wilson
Bill Wilson
Bill Wilson

Bill Wilson is the editorial director of ROADS & BRIDGES magazine and has been covering the industry since 1999. He has won seven Robert F. Boger Awards for editorial excellence, including three in 2011. He also was the creator of the Top 10, Contractor's Choice Awards and Recycling Awards platforms, as well as ROADS & BRIDGES Live.

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