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It Takes Two: Indiana Commission Next Up for Illiana Approval

Story Originally Published Here.

The Illiana Expressway got a green light from Chicago’s Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Committee last week in an 11-8 vote.

The next potential bump in the road for the $1.3 billion project comes in early December, when Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission has a vote.

The expressway, intended to be a toll road, would link Interstate 55 near Wilmington, Ill. to Interstate 65 near Lowell. The plan is to establish a public-private partnership to build and operate the tollway, with toll revenue paying off the debt.

Both states are looking to start accepting requests from businesses looking to operate and build the tollway.

“We’re looking to release a request for qualification,” said Indiana Department of Transportation spokesperson Jim Pinkerton. “Companies will submit why they think they’re up for the job.”

Final bids to work on the Illiana won’t go out until after it’s been approved by the Federal Highway Administration. Illinois Department of Transportation spokesperson Jae Miller believes the project will receive federal approval early next year.

Governors from both states have voiced support for the new tollway, citing economic development and job creation.

A no-vote from either planning organization wouldn’t stop the project in its tracks, said Pinkerton.

“If it turns out that there’s a vote against,” Pinkerton said, “we’d go back and try to address any specific concerns.”

The idea that NIRPC’s vote could be the last attempt to stop the large project is misleading, said NIRPC executive director Ty Warner.

“It would be accurate to say that we’re the last step regarding a public body’s approval,” said Warner. “But there are other steps that have to be completed before it moves forward.”

Warner added that most of all, the project needs to be funded.

“This is a different kind of project with the public-private partnership,” Warner said. “And the funding hasn’t yet been figured out. So even if NIRPC approves it, that doesn’t mean it’s really over.”

Both INDOT and its Illinois counterpart are completing the Tier 2 study, looking at the environmental impacts to a 400 foot corridor of the highway path.

The FHWA also has to issue its approval before construction can begin, and it can approve the project only if both CMAP and NIRPC include the Illiana in their long-range plans.

The project also faces a pending lawsuit from three conservation groups: Openlands, Sierra Club and the Midewin Heritage Association.

If you think you may be affected by the Illiana Expressway and/or are interested in a free consultation, contact our eminent domain landowner attorneys at 1-888-318-3761 or visit us on the web at www.landownerattorneys.com.

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