Will County, Metropolitan Agency for Planning clash over Illiana route
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain firstname.lastname@example.org February 7, 2013 2:20PM
Preferred route for proposed Illiana Expressway
Updated: March 10, 2013 6:19AM
Will County board members fear a regional planning agency may want to obstruct plans for the proposed Illiana Expressway if it’s not built along a northern route in Will County.
County officials on Thursday called on the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning to support their pick for an Illiana route that ends just north of Wilmington. The move came after a CMAP official sent a letter questioning whether there should be additional study on a more northerly route.
“If Will County is a part of CMAP, why would you write a letter that’s contrary to what the county recommended?” asked board member Don Gould, R-Shorewood.
The proposed Illiana would link Interstate 65 in Indiana with Interstate 55 in Illinois. County officials endorsed the middle one of three that were proposed and studied.
A more northern route was rejected because it would have been too costly to construct and it traveled through more developed areas of Will County. Meanwhile, a southern route through Kankakee County was discarded because it would not have generated the toll revenue needed to make the Illiana viable.
The middle route from Beecher to Wilmington was endorsed by the county board and picked last month by federal transportation officials as a preferred route.
Randall Blankenhorn, CMAP’s executive director, said his agency only wants more information on the northern route before its board votes to include the project in its Go To 2040 regional plan.
The controversy stems from a letter Blankenhorn wrote to the Illinois Department of Transportation in December. In the letter, Blankenhorn said it was “disappointing” that a northern route for the Illiana wouldn’t be studied in phase two of planning.
Blankenhorn, who appeared at a county board committee meeting Thursday to defend his letter, said the middle route the county prefers may be too far south and it could cause more homes to be built farther away from existing population centers.
“This alignment will promote low-density development throughout the southern portion of Will County,” he wrote in his letter.
Gould took issue with Blankenhorn’s concerns.
“What you call sprawl, people out here call economic growth,” he said.
Republican Caucus Chairman Jim Moustis, R-Frankfort, said Will County views the Illiana as the answer to a transportation problem, not a development issue. He criticized the “tone” of Blankenhorn’s letter for seeming to be anti-Illiana. He also thought CMAP’s concerns favored the biggest member of CMAP’s seven-county jurisdiction.
“The world, for us, doesn’t revolve around Chicago,” Moustis said.
Even so, Blankenhorn said transportation and development issues can’t be split apart and his agency believes the northern route should continue to be studied.
CMAP also would like to know why traffic forecasts used by the Illinois Department of Transportation differ from CMAP’s forecasts. And more information should be available on possible funding sources for the Illiana before the project moves forward, he said.
Blankenhorn stressed at the meeting that his agency just wanted more information on the project before its board votes on the Illiana. He said his letter was written out of frustration with IDOT’s lack of response to earlier letters voicing CMAP’s concerns.
IDOT will make the final decision on the road’s path and it will oversee construction. But the CMAP board vote is more than just advisory.
“It has to be in our plan in order for it to move forward, that’s the law,” Blankenhorn said.