Full story originally published here.
A Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning committee on Friday voted 10-7 to recommend including the Illiana Expressway in its long-range transportation plan, a key step in moving the project forward.
The vote could be a harbinger of others to come in the next two weeks at the Willis Tower meeting rooms of the agency, with CMAP’s approval critical to getting eventual federal approval for the Illiana Expressway.
Those votes will culminate in a vote of CMAP’s Metropolitan Planning Organization on Oct. 17. That organization must vote to include the Illiana Expressway in the agency’s Go To 2040 long range transportation plan or the 47-mile expressway is a no-go in Illinois.
The Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, an organization similar to CMAP, will take votes on including the Illiana Expressway in its own 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan in December.
Friday’s vote came despite a recommendation by CMAP’s own staff not to include the Illiana Expressway in the Go To 2040 plan.
Lynwood Mayor Eugene Williams, who serves as an alternate on the transportation committee, said in comments before Friday’s meeting that his community supports building the Illiana Expressway.
“Bringing more choices and opportunity to other parts of the state will not hurt Chicago,” Williams said.
But that wasn’t everyone’s opinion on Friday.
A CMAP report highly critical of the Illiana Expressway was summarized by CMAP Deputy Chief of Staff Matt Maloney before the agency’s transportation committee began discussion.
One of the CMAP staff’s central arguments against the road is that even with private investment there will be a large funding gap of anywhere from $440 million to $1.1 billion that will have to be paid for by the states, Maloney said.
The report also projects the road would only marginally improve regional mobility and largely bypass established communities, even in Will County, Maloney said.
“If Go To 2040 provides a blueprint for our future then the Illiana is out of step with our plan,” said.
The Illinois Department of Transportation countered those arguments in a short presentation by Pete Harmet.
The project would in fact pay for itself over 35 years with tolls collected according to IDOT’s projections, Harmet said. It would also be one of the largest contributors to gross regional product of any major project currently on the shelf or underway in Illinois, Harmet said.
“It seems like CMAP staff has moved the goalposts back on us,” Harmet said. “And sometimes they’ve moved them from side to side.”
Most of the public comments made after those presentations were in support of including the Illiana Expressway in the Go To 2040 plan and getting it built.
The Illiana Expressway has already been designated a project of both regional and national significance, said John Greuling, CEO of the Will County Center for Economic Development.
“It’s interesting this morning that I have not heard any mention of our sister state,” Greuling said. “And I’m disappointed by that for what is supposed to be a regional project.”
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn have endorsed the road, most recently at a tri-state regional summit last week at the Federal Reserve in Chicago.
The Illiana Expressway would be a 47-mile toll road running from Interstate 65 just northeast of Lowell to Interstate 55 near Wilmington, Ill. It would have two lanes in each direction.
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