The quest for private investors with deep pockets and the rounding up of final federal approvals for the Illiana Expressway are now traveling in tandem following Thursday’s vote in favor of the expressway at the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission.
Indiana and Illinois are now awaiting their first solid responses from investors while aggressively pushing forward environmental and engineering studies needed to win federal approval.
“The vote allows us to move forward with closing out the Tier II environmental study,” Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman Jim Pinkerton said Friday.
Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority Executive Director Bill Hanna said, “(Thursday’s) vote was notice to the investment community that something is happening.”
Environmental studies needed to win federal approval for the expressway have been underway for two years. One of the last steps in producing what is called the Tier II environmental impact study will be a set of public hearings, one in Indiana and one in Illinois. Those should happen during January, Pinkerton said.
Both hearings will include an open microphone time where residents can make statements that will be taken down as part of the public record. Those comments become part of the environmental impact statement that is submitted for federal approval not long after.
If and when the federal government issues a record of decision on the environmental impact statement approving the project, INDOT and the Illinois Department of Transportation will begin hitting the gas on preparing the right of way.
“Then we can move forward with the land acquisition and that sort of thing,” Pinkerton said. “We can’t move forward on that until we get the record of decision.”
The tolled expressway would run from Interstate 65 in Indiana to Interstate 55 in Illinois. It would pass just north of Lowell and south of Cedar Lake before heading due west across the state line.
The other key to getting the project started is the landing of investors. Both states hope investors will see enough potential in the road to help finance some of its $1.3 billion price tag.
Next week IDOT will receive statements of qualifications from bidders who want to build and operate the 37-mile Illinois portion of the road under a public-private partnership. About a month later, IDOT hopes to develop a shortlist of finalists for the job, according to its request for qualifications issued in November.
INDOT wants qualifications from bidders for building and operating the Indiana portion of the road by Jan. 10 and anticipates announcing its shortlist Feb. 19, according to the Indiana Finance Authority’s request for qualifications issued just after IDOT’s.
Those shortlisted finalists will then get a formal request for proposals that they should respond to sometime in the summer. Both states hope to conclude a deal by fall.
INDOT and IDOT officials have said they will not build the road unless it makes financial sense, so getting proposals that lessen the cost of the road to both states is critical to getting it built.
Expressway investors and planners also will have to keep an eye on a lawsuit filed by three environmental groups, which allege the Federal Highway Administration erred in approving the Tier I environmental study for the expressway earlier this year.
The groups Open Lands, Sierra Club and Midewin Heritage Association allege the expressway would have a major impact on the Kankakee River and Midewin Tall Grass Prairie, endangering sensitive nesting areas and aquatic wildlife.
Story originally published here.
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