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There’s a road forward for Illiana Expressway

Updated: November 14, 2013 6:37AM



For years, Illinois leaders have been scolded for not being more like our neighboring states’ leaders. Why can’t our government come up with innovative ideas like theirs?

Former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels was hoisted so high up on a pedestal by some folks here that he was nearly elevated to demi-god status.

So, what happened when Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, who was stung badly when Daniels compared Illinois’ governance to “The Simpsons” TV show, finally teamed up with the Hoosier state’s sainted erstwhile governor on a massive public-private infrastructure project?

What happened when Daniels, who signed a union-busting “right to work” bill into law, negotiated a significant compromise with some major Illinois unions for that project?

Well, many of those same Daniels worshippers have flip-flopped and are now screaming that the world’s about to end.

The project is the proposed Illiana Expressway. It’s a “public-private partnership” designed to be a freight corridor through southern Will County from Interstate 55, across I-57 over to Indiana’s I-65.

If you’ve traveled down I-55 through Will County you couldn’t help but notice the unbelievably dense truck traffic. That’s because the county has developed a massive “inland port,” connecting railway and truck cargo shipments.

There’s even been some hope that the proposed third regional airport near the Peotone I-57 exit could complement the Will County operation with cargo flights.

What’s that? Peotone?

Ah, we’ve stumbled across the magic word.

Chicago has been trying to kill the third airport idea for decades, and it has so far succeeded. But when former Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. — the airport’s biggest booster — self-immolated, Gov. Quinn stepped in and seized control and the airport now looks like more of a possibility than it ever has.

A major new road running right by that proposed airport would be another huge boost to the airport’s future, so the road has to be stopped. It’s hardly a secret.

A lot of numbers are being tossed around, but keep in mind that this would be a toll road funded at least in part by private investors.

One objection to the road is that it would create more unsightly urban sprawl. But even the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), which this week voted to disapprove of the project, admits that the freight corridor likely won’t lead to more sprawl.

The main complaint by CMAP, though, is that the road could expose the state to “significant financial risk.”

If the state’s toll revenue projections come up short, then the state could wind up paying the tab, which CMAP claims might be as much as $1 billion. And if that happens it could mean less money for much needed Chicago-area projects.

There are most definitely some regional jealousies at play here as well. A win for another region is too often seen as a loss for Chicago. So, it was no accident when CMAP Chairman Gerald Bennett ridiculed the project this week as a “highway in nowhereland.”

The bottom line here is that Illinois desperately needs jobs and innovative development. And it really needs to get beyond the petty regionalism that has held it back for so many years. If Chicago wants a similar project, then Chicago ought to make it happen.

So, I have a two-part suggestion.

Just to be safe, a neutral third party should review the state’s toll revenue projections.

Then, if the numbers work, let’s see if private investors really do step up to help finance this thing. If investor interest is weak, and no other non-tax funding sources can be found, then everybody could move on to something different.

Needless to say, this being Illinois, I’m not exactly holding my breath.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.

Email: capitolfax@aol.com



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