OPINION: Illiana Challenges, Rail Possibilities

Might the Illiana Expressway project die? With governors of both Indiana and Illinois in favor of it, and local officials in the states’ regional planning agencies recently to include it on their lists of regional priorities, that seems unlikely.

And, in Indiana, the opposition to the proposed toll road has never moved beyond the arguments that can be made against any interstate highway — opposing the taking of largely rural, family-held property; the cutting-off of some local roads; the environmental impact (lost farmland, poorer air quality, light and sound pollution); added burden on emergency services; and the generic “no one will use it” claim.

As emotionally powerful as these arguments can be, transportation planners, and the political officials behind them, aren’t going to accept an argument that can be used anywhere and everywhere to block an infrastructure project.

But arguments against the Illiana from Illinois seem more robust, and particular to the Illiana situation. That’s surely because Illinois’ financial situation is much worse than Indiana’s, and so, to the extent the states will end up footing the bill for the expressway, the issue is more acute there.

Questions in Illinois regard how many drivers will use it and whether a toll road will be viable, in the sense of finding the balance that collects the needed revenue without discouraging an critical amount of drivers; what financial guarantees it appears the states will give to the yet-to-be-found private partner; and how the states’ expenses in planning and preparing for construction could grow. In short, the fear, and increasingly the conventional wisdeom, is that a broke state will inherit a white elephant.

Indiana looks at it mainly as a relief valve for the Borman, and considers the costs worthwhile. The action has been, and continues to be, on the Illinois side of the state line, though. It seems that the recent votes by planning agencies, with strong backing from most elected officials, sealed the deal. But, at least on the Illinois side, there continues to be disgruntlement in the area that really matters — the state purse.

Meanwhile, the proposed South Shore extension will most likely avoid the parochial opposition — it would go southward into communities made for it, the residential/retail corridor of west Lake County. And the benefit of to those communities and the ones immediately surrounding might overcome the “public transportation never pays for itself” argument.

The town of Fishers has recently approved a full redevelopment of its train station and surroundings, with some public participation in a mixed-use plan that will bring residents, businesses and recreational activity to the area. That sort of activity in Munster, Dyer and other communities could have benefits beyond those towns that make the regional advantages tangible enough that arguments used against a highway won’t be as effective against the railway.

Ideally, the rail expansion will get a fair cost-benefit evaluation, and the clear difference between service on this side of the state line and the other will begin to be narrowed.

Full story here.

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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