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Forum yields enthusiasm for Illiana Expressway

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Updated: July 26, 2013 6:31AM



ROSEMONT — The governors of Illinois and Indiana on Monday kicked off a two-day Illiana Industry Forum with a bipartisan, bistate show of enthusiasm for the road project.

Two states that normally compete against each other for jobs and sports titles now are pulling together for the Illiana Expressway, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said.

“Today really is about partnering for progress,” said Pence, a Republican, citing the slogan for the forum, which was held at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center.

The $1.3 billion, 47-mile road would stretch from Interstate 55 in Illinois to Interstate 65 in Indiana once it is completed. If all goes according to plan, land acquisition could begin next year and construction in 2015. State officials estimate it would take three years to build the road.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, said the Illiana is crucial to the economic vitality of the region.

“We understand what the future of our economy is all about in the Midwest,” he said. “It’s about logistics, it’s about distribution, it’s about covering the heartland. And Indiana and Illinois are the heart of the Heartland.”

It’s important for farmers in both states to have easy and efficient transportation for the grain that now is shipped by cargo container through intermodals in Joliet and Elwood, Quinn said.

“Illinois and Indiana, we’re feeding the world,” he said.

Transportation officials also say the road will reduce road congestion and pollution, it will save motorists and truckers billions in lost time and it will spur the creation of 9,000 construction jobs and 28,000 long-term jobs.

“This area has been known as a bottleneck of the nation for a long time,” said Steve Schilke, Illiana project manager for the Illinois Department of Transportation.

The Illiana has been on the books since the Daniel Burnham Plan of 1909. But it didn’t get fast-tracked until Illinois and Indiana signed a memorandum of understanding in June 2010 to work together to build it. Both states also agreed to use the public-private partnership method to get the road financed and constructed.

This will be Illinois’ first public-private project. Indiana has more experience with the method.

That’s what the vendor fair was all about. It lured hundreds of financing, construction, engineering and design companies to Rosemont to get more details on the project. Once a final record of decision is received for the Illiana, a private partner will be chosen to finance, build, operate and maintain the road. Toll revenue will repay the private entity that builds the Illiana, either directly or through payments from the state.

Steve Chastain, a business development official from CTL Engineering of Indianapolis, said he was surprised that the forum was more than a pep rally for the road.

“Overall, it was a very informative forum that gave a lot of technical details of the actual project itself,” he said. “They gave a time schedule and some of the things that were going to be included for contractors.”

They also talked about financing of the project and how Indiana and Illinois are going to work together, he said. One thing that is not known at this point is what kind of governance structure will be used for the road.

“There are still a lot of unknowns that they’re still trying to work out,” Chastain said.

While there are still loose ends, Will County officials who attended the forum were thrilled to see the road move a step closer to fruition.

“It represents something huge for us,” said Will County Board Speaker Herb Brooks Jr., D-Joliet. “ ... The majority of people, if you look at the turnout here, they want to see it happen.”

County Executive Larry Walsh, D-Elwood, said the Illiana is going to put even more of a focus on Will County, which was one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation before the Great Recession hit.

More people are talking about Will County and its intermodals, its potential future South Suburban Airport, its interstates, its population growth and now the Illiana, Walsh said.

“All of a sudden almost all of the fingers are pointing to projects that are taking place or being proposed to take place in Will County,” he said. “This is where the economy, when it takes off, is going to be — in Will County.”



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