Will County Executive Larry Walsh. | Supplied photo
Updated: January 26, 2014 6:08AM
Last week’s vote by the Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC) to add the Illiana Expressway to their region’s long-range transportation plan was another critical step forward and an opportunity to continue the process to finance and build the proposed tollway as Illinois’ first public-private road partnership.
Officials in Indiana and Illinois have now endorsed the need for a new east-west toll road — which will be 47 miles long and connect Interstate 55 near Wilmington to I-65 near Lowell, Ind. — and the project’s compatibility with broad-based plans for the future.
Will County has actively participated in making this project a reality, with the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) and many local and regional partners.
My commitment as county executive is to the residents of Will County who will be most impacted by the Illiana and stand to benefit greatly from reduced congestion on local arterials, less truck traffic on I-80 and improved safety and mobility overall. The Illiana Expressway is a significant step toward building a safer and more reliable transportation system for moving people and products through the Chicago region.
Will County’s population is projected to exceed 1.2 million by 2040. The planned tollway will sustain a growing population with improved regional highway connections, a safer and more efficient option for truck traffic and expanded growth in the freight and logistics industry.
Economically, Will County has become a major center of freight distribution and logistics-related business activity. New train-truck cargo transfer centers constructed with private investment connect the county to the global marketplace and create access to overseas markets for Midwest grain exports and manufactured goods.
Will County’s 21st century transportation assets strengthen the region’s competitiveness as a transportation hub and support new job creation and business growth.
The Illiana Expressway will function as a freight corridor with direct access to the local intermodal facilities, providing more connections to the interstate network and new capacity to move large volumes of trucks reliably and efficiently through the region.
The significance of the tollway as Illinois’ first viable public-private road partnership cannot be overstated. Public dollars alone are no longer sufficient for the level of investment needed to deliver a world-class transportation system.
IDOT and INDOT will continue their efforts to pursue a private partner for the Illiana Expressway, and this process will provide needed information on the project’s financial viability. If the tollway can leverage new private investment with limited public funding and taxpayer risk, it will be a success.
With critical votes from the federally designated metropolitan planning organizations for Northeast Illinois and Northwest Indiana in support of moving forward with the Illiana Expressway, Will County officials and others who have strongly advocated for the project can renew our focus on a brighter future for our region.
Lawrence M. Walsh is the Will County executive.