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Illiana toll road would be ‘misplaced investment,’ planners say

In this file phosigns opposing IllianExpressway are displayed outside public meeting project. Staff with Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning have

In this file photo, signs opposing the Illiana Expressway are displayed outside a public meeting on the project. Staff with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning have recommended against including the Illiana in the agency's long-range plan.

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Updated: September 28, 2013 9:00PM

Building the proposed Illiana Expressway would be a “misplaced investment” of government money, and it’s questionable whether the highway is even needed, according to a staff report the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning will take up next month.

The report, to be considered Oct. 9, raises doubts about whether the envisioned toll road would make financial sense, saying it could end up requiring the cash-strapped state government to cover a bigger share of the cost.

Released Friday, the report recommends that the planning agency’s board reject the Illinois Department of Transportation’s request to include the Illiana Expressway in its regional transportation plan.

The proposed 47-mile highway would link Interstates 55 and 57 in Illinois with Interstate 65 in Indiana.

Illinois and Indiana transportation officials have said the tollway would be built through a public-private partnership at an estimated cost of $1.25 billion. Illinois’ share would be $950 million.

People who live near the proposed path of the tollway have been vocal in their opposition. Three environmental groups — Openlands, the Midewin Heritage Association and the Sierra Club — have filed a federal lawsuit to try to block construction of the tollway.

The new, 19-page report says the Illiana Expressway would be “broadly incompatible with the overall goals and recommendations” of the planning agency’s long-term future plan, called “Go To 2040.” It also says financing for the highway “remains uncertain.”

As planned, tolls paid by cars and trucks using the Illiana would ultimately repay the private investment and cover maintenance costs. But the planning agency’s staff said there could be a funding gap of as much as $1 billion over the life of the tollway.

Its report says IDOT’s estimate of the project’s cost “falls short of other comparable projects built recently, both regionally and nationwide,” and that “the information provided to justify the project’s financial viability has been incomplete and largely anecdotal.”

It also questions one selling point that’s been used for the Illiana Expressway by transportation officials and Gov. Pat Quinn — that the tollway would alleviate traffic, particularly heavy truck traffic, on Interstate 80.

It’s up to the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and another government agency, the Metropolitan Planning Organization, to decide how federal funds for transportation projects in the Chicago area are spent.

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