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Kadner: Quinn asks mayors to save Illiana

Gov. PQuinn told crowd more than 400 people gathered Chicago SouthlChamber Commerce LuncheTinley Park Monday Oct. 14 2013 contact members

Gov. Pat Quinn told a crowd of more than 400 people gathered at a Chicago Southland Chamber of Commerce Luncheon in Tinley Park on Monday, Oct. 14, 2013, to contact members of a planning committee to urge a "yes" vote Thursday on a proposal to build an Illiana Expressway.

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Updated: November 16, 2013 6:16AM



In a final push to save the Illiana Expressway, Gov. Pat Quinn urged area mayors and legislators to personally contact members of a metropolitan planning committee who will cast a crucial vote on the project Thursday.

After speaking Monday to a crowd of more than 400 at a Chicago Southland Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Tinley Park, Quinn invited about 40 public officials (including about two dozen Southland mayors and state legislators) into a separate meeting in a private room at the convention center where he talked to them for about an hour.

Several of the mayors later told me that it was a wide-ranging discussion that included the South Suburban Airport, gambling and the general lack of economic development in the Southland.

The governor made it clear, however, that he wanted those present to personally contact anyone they knew on the 19-member Chicago Metropolitan Organization policy committee, which will vote Thursday on whether the Illiana Expressway should be built.

When asked what would happen to the expressway if it was voted down Thursday, Quinn told news reporters, and later the mayors, that, “My father always told me you don’t take an aspirin if you don’t have a headache. I’m not going to waste time worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet.”

In his speech at the chamber luncheon, Quinn received loud applause when he ridiculed those who have called the expressway “a highway in Nowhere Land” — a reference to a comment made by Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett, board chairman of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), which voted against the Illiana Expressway last week.

Quinn also criticized Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel who opposes the planned tollway, for taking a “parochial attitude.” Emanuel has indicated that he fears financial support for the Illiana Expressway will drain money away from Chicago road projects.

“We need to take a regional approach,” Quinn said. “What helps one area of the region helps the entire region.”

Emphasizing that the Illiana will create jobs, Quinn told the luncheon crowd, “We have to invest in transportation. Because many, many jobs just in recent years are created by logistics, distribution, transportation.

“Our people are our strength,” he said, adding that while roads, bridges and trains are great, “that is our foremost virtue.” Quinn said Illinois has “men and women who know how to work hard, get it done on time and get it done, under budget in many cases.”

The governor stressed, as he has many times in recent months, that Illinois is the largest inland port in the nation, is the fifth-largest state in the country and has the “19th-largest economy in the world.”

State Rep. Al Riley (D-Olympia Fields) told me before the luncheon started that he was offended by Bennett’s reference to the region as “Nowhere Land.” Riley, during a recent news conference touting the Illiana Expressway as needed for economic growth in the Southland, called the region “Forgotonia” because it has been so often overlooked by state and federal officials.

“I don’t see how it serves us to have someone sitting on a metropolitan planning board who refers to the area we live in as Nowhere Land,” Riley said.

Tinley Park Mayor Ed Zabrocki was unaware that Bennett was the person Quinn was referring to because the governor never mentioned the person by name.

“I can’t believe Jerry would say something like that,” Zabrocki said. “I’ve known him for years.”

Bennett complained about the behind-the-scenes politicking by Quinn to get CMAP to approve the Illiana Expressway, which would connect Interstate 65 near Lowell, Ind., to I-55 near Wilmington to provide a major alternative, especially for trucks, to I-80.

Bennett said he had never seen such political pressure applied to the CMAP board, but given the governor’s comments on Monday that’s not likely to abate as a final vote nears that is crucial to the Illiana obtaining federal funding.

State Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Olympia Fields) came out of the meeting with Quinn and said, “If it’s time to draw a line in the sand, and ask who stands with us or against us, I’m ready to do that.”

Hutchinson said she had worked with Chicago legislators and others, helping them to pass bills that would benefit their areas, and was “tired of watching people turn around and say they’re opposed to projects whenever they’re about to help the south suburbs.”

“If they want my help in the future, if they want my vote, they’re going to have to show some support for projects in the area I represent,” she said.

I’ve heard that sort of talk before from state legislators in the Southland, particular on school funding reform. But the fact is, in the past, they always backed down when Chicago political leaders such as House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) applied political pressure.

There is one reason a South Suburban Airport was not built more than 20 years ago, after it was recommended by the Federal Aviation Administration — Chicago didn’t want competition to O’Hare International and Midway airports.

City officials went so far as to share revenue from the airports with the Gary airport to prevent those funds from being used to help finance an airport near Peotone.

The result is that the Southland, instead of getting office buildings and corporate headquarters to generate jobs and revenue, has been used as a garbage dumping ground. It gets landfills, incinerators and burning tires.

Even now, the big boom being lauded by political leaders is the development of intermodal centers, which are transfer stations for freight containers coming off trains and trucks.

So, it’s warehouses and giant storage yards for the Southland, and jobs as truck drivers for the people who live there.

Far too many political leaders do believe the Illiana Expressway is a highway in Nowhere Land, just south of Forgotonia.



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