Whether it’s $670,000 for copper-clad doors at the state capitol or a billion-dollar-plus expressway through the cornfields of Will County, Illinois officials can’t bring spending in line with budgetary reality.
While the capitol door outlay generated more media attention and public outcry last week, its significance is mostly symbolic. The expressway project, however, involves what Everett Dirksen would have called “real money.”
Gov. Pat Quinn wants to build a highway linking Interstate 80 in Will County with I-65 in northwest Indiana. Supporters say the project will ease congestion, create jobs and spark economic development. Planners at the Illinois Department of Transportation estimate the cost at $1.35 billion. Mr. Quinn wants to split construction expenses with a developer through a public-private partnership.
On Sept. 4, however, the Metropolitan Planning Council, a local civic group, published a report questioning the benefits and the cost estimates of the project. The report largely echoed concerns raised in late July by staff at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, a government agency that oversees certain aspects of transportation planning for northeastern Illinois.
“MPC has determined that the Illiana would provide few benefits in exchange for high and uncertain costs,” the group said. MPC concluded the highway would have almost no effect on congestion, create fewer than 1,000 “long-term” jobs and “expand the economy by an insignificant amount.”
As for cost, MPC estimated the final tab for the roadway and related projects at nearly twice IDOT’s estimate. CMAP staffers came up with a similar figure. MPC also predicted the state would shoulder far more of the total cost than its private partner.
Citing higher construction costs for highway projects around the country, both reports accuse IDOT of low-balling its estimates. They also say the agency assumed unrealistic economic benefits.
Now it’s up to CMAP to decide whether to include Illiana on a list of high-priority local transportation projects.
The right choice looks pretty clear to me. We have three reports assessing the costs and benefits of the project. The only one supporting Illiana comes from a state agency that exists to build highways, and was prepared for a governor who wants to cut ribbons. The two reports opposing it come from groups with transportation expertise but no skin in the game.
A state in fiscal crisis can’t afford to roll the dice on multibillion-dollar projects, especially when the weight of expert analysis suggests the bet won’t pay off.
Full story here.
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