It finally looks like taxpayers will spend $1.3 billion on the Illiana Expressway of legend as it reaches out to link Interstate 65 near Lowell with Interstate 55 near Wilmington, Ill.
Illiana Fever! Catch It!
But before we get all giggly and giddy, consider four questions that might make you hate the Illiana.
1: A toll road to Joliet? Really?
Well, of course it’s not necessary in the way real interstate highways make life better. You need real interstates to reach Chicago, Indianapolis and Cleveland.
This road is not so much for you and your Honda. It’s for big trucks. You’ll make the trip from Lake County to Joliet marginally faster with the new road, but the Indiana share of the 47-mile road is at least $100 million.
For a $10 toll, don’t you want to go to somewhere more interesting than Joliet? To avoid charges of provincial parochialism, we’d ask Jolieteers the same question. How would a slightly faster trip to East Chicago enhance your life?
When the states commissioned the Illiana Expressway Feasibility Study eight years ago, they wanted to prove traffic would be diminished by an extra highway. What it showed, even then, was that traffic likely would not diminish on U.S. 41, but rise about 35 percent.
2: It’s that Peotone Airport hallucination again?
One way or another, political forces arrayed south of Chicago will prove with Mathematically Precise Queeg Missing Strawberry Logic that the Peotone Airport is necessary for future prosperity.
What an airport that does not exist really needs is a big highway that does not exist. It’s Existential Transportation Theory. If we build SOMETHING, then SOMEONE will come.
Their idea — and I wouldn’t make this up just to be funny — is that you’ll love this new highway precisely because it takes you to Peotone. Everybody wants to go there. It’s a hub, a destination. It’s like Disney World with airplanes.
Peotone Airport, you say?
Yes, the one that hasn’t been built and won’t unless any serving mayor of Chicago dies in mid-sentence, and the state legislature walks over his lifeless body. I think Hizzoners Daley and Emanuel actually have said the phrase “over my dead body.” The Peotone airport still masquerades as 5,000 acres of corn.
If you won’t take commercial flights from Gary, why will you drive to Peotone? It’s a trick question.
3: We need more big trucks?
Illiana will lighten truck traffic on the Borman Expressway. That was the odd theory. But when planners assessed the variables, they found Illiana would siphon only about 2.2 percent of traffic from the clogged Borman. Natural increases in traffic will put about 199,000 cars and trucks daily on the Borman by 2030. That’s compared to about 155,000 now.
Oops on the math forecast.
Illiana is designed — from the Illinois point of view — to funnel growing convoys of heavy trucks down an escape route away from the intermodal megalopolis of Joliet, the Illinois River and Will County.
So, good for Illinois. We’re happy they have so much business.
But newsflash. You do not live in Illinois, and what’s good for them may not be nearly as enchanting for you. Think what 5,000 more semis everyday on I-65 and U.S. 41 would look like.
The original traffic study suggested Illiana “would offer a speedy route to destinations in the fastest-growing sections of Lake County and Will County, Illinois.”
This is planner tomfoolery. What it might do is transform Lowell into a southerly sprawling version of Hammond. Wouldn’t THAT be lovely? Another rhetorical question.
As for you, where in “fast-growing” Will County do you want to go?
4: Is a $1.3 billion road twice as nice for $2.6 billion?
The truth is that no one knows how much this highway will cost, or who will pay for it. The $1.3 billion is a self-indulgent low-ball guess by enthusiasts. Other guesses suggest the cost could double that.
Why would you care?
Because billions spent on roads of dubious value are billions that can’t be spent on other, more necessary roads.
Which roads? That’s the right question. Just look around at your crumbling roads and bridges.
Unnamed mythical Easter Bunny-like “private partners” will help build the road, which makes the tax burden less. How much? Who knows?
Don’t worry. Be happy. Catch the Fever.
David Rutter was an editor at six community newspapers more than 40 years, including nearly a decade as managing editor of the Post-Tribune. His column appears Sundays in the Post-Tribune. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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