Transportation planning agency votes against Illiana Expressway plan
By Casey Toner firstname.lastname@example.org October 9, 2013 11:36AM
Updated: November 11, 2013 12:14PM
The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning board on Wednesday voted against adding the proposed Illiana Expressway to its long-term transportation plan.
CMAP officials voted 10-4 against including the proposed expressway in its Go To 2040 long-range transportation plan. The project needs to get on the list for it to move forward.
CMAP’s transportation committee had voted to add the tollway to the plan, which outlines roughly $360 billion in transportation spending between now and 2040. Only $10 billion of that amount is reserved for new transportation projects, including the Interstate 294/Interstate 57 interchange and the Chicago Transit Authority’s Red Line South extension.
CMAP executive director Randall Blankenhorn opened up the discussion by responding to claims made last week by an Illinois Department of Transportation official who said IDOT was “moving the goalposts,” on building the highway.
“We aren’t here to settle for field goals,” Blankenhorn said. “We are here to score touchdowns and the goal line is very clear.”
Supporters and critics of the expressway exchanged barbs during the two-hour meeting, accusing one another of playing politics with state transportation.
“This isn’t a game,” said Gerald Bennett, CMAP board member and Palos Hills mayor. “We have employees at stake here.”
Disagreement is not new to the Illiana debate. Transportation analysts disagree on the need for the 47-mile tollway, which would be built through a private/public partnership and would connect Interstate 55 near Wilmington with Interstate 65 near Lowell, Ind.
Supporters say it would provide another major east-west highway through northeastern Illinois and relieve traffic on I-80, which is needed because truck traffic is fast increasing in Will County in light of the growth of intermodal centers, where train and truck cargo are exchanged. The state transportation departments in Illinois and Indiana have planned the project.
“The governor believes it’s a good investment in Chicago and Illinois and Will County and the south suburbs,” said Gov. Pat Quinn’s deputy chief of staff Sean O’Shea, a nonvoting member of the CMAP board. “The jobs created directly to construct it — and it’s a lot of jobs — will put people to work for several years.”
Those opposed to the highway contend that it will cost much more than the projected $1.25 billion, and its benefits for economic development and traffic relief will be negligible.
Drawing jeers from Will County officials, Bennett described the Illiana as the “highway to nowhereland.”
Quinn and Schneider have fast-tracked planning for the Illiana in recent months. But it faces legal opposition. Openlands, Sierra Club and the Midewin Heritage Association filed a federal lawsuit this summer to block the expressway, which they contend will damage state and federally protected natural resources.
CMAP board member Andrew Madigan, the son of House Speaker Michael Madigan, attended Wednesday’s meeting by phone. However, he did not vote and his vote was marked as absent due to the disconnection of his phone line.
There is still another vote scheduled for Oct. 17 by the Metropolitan Planning Organization, which needs a majority of the members present to add the tollway to the 2040 plan. Chaired by Schneider, the MPO board includes members from seven counties and multiple state and federal agencies.
CMAP board member and Bolingbrook Mayor Roger C. Claar called the MPO vote next week “critical” and said he wasn’t surprised by the decision of the CMAP board, which is dominated by Chicago and Cook County interests.
“They want their money spent in Chicago,” Claar said. “I understand that. It’s about money.”
Contributing: Cindy Wojdyla Cain