No money, no Illiana Expressway

According to Illinois officials, the Illiana Expressway project has been halted:

Illinois Department of Transportation officials decided “in light of the state’s current fiscal crisis and a lack of sufficient capital resources, the Illiana Expressway will not move forward at this time. Project costs exceed currently available resources,” a statement from the governor said.

The move is not surprising, given Acting IDOT Secretary Randy Blankenhorn opposed the road when he was chief of the Chicago Metropolitan Area for Planning.

“We see no evidence the Illiana would lead to sustained job creation over the long term,” Blankenhorn said in 2013. “There is potential it would expose the state to significant financial risk.”…

Rauner is feuding with Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton over the Democrats’ budget and how to solve a massive deficit.

This has been quite the controversial project and there have always been questions about the initial funding and ongoing costs. New highways are costly and Illinois doesn’t have much money to spend. Yet, now we get to find out whether this is simply another bargaining chip in the ongoing budget battles in Springfield. While we’ve seen a lot about the Chicago area politics of this expressway, what does Madigan think about it? Will the claims that the highway would be a boon for economic development be resurrected at some point?

Planners vote against Illiana Expressway

The proposed Illiana Expressway is in limbo after the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning rejected the project:

However, because the vote, 10-4, was not a sufficient supermajority, it puts the ultimate fate of the project in limbo.

The Illiana is a proposed tollway linking I-55 in the South suburbs with I-65 in Indiana that would be built as a public-private partnership. While Quinn and the Illinois Department of Transportation are backing it as a vital piece of infrastructure, CMAP experts warned in 2013 it will cost Illinois taxpayers up to $1.1 billion with limited benefits…

Today and Thursday is a rematch of sorts. Officials will vote on what should have been a routine decision — approving an update of GO TO 2040, a blueprint for growth in the region. In this go-round with the Nov. 4 election looming, Quinn has been pushing hard in favor of the expressway, claimed leaders of the Environmental Law and Policy Center who warned some CMAP board members might reverse their votes. ELPC officials quoted a toll industry publication describing the project as a “lemon,” and pointed out that CMAP has prioritized other projects over the Illiana. These include the Route 53 extension and Elgin-O’Hare Expressway expansion. The group has sued over the issue, claiming the MPO essentially lacked authority to override CMAP. The Illinois Department of Transportation estimates construction jobs should total about 9,000 and permanent jobs, mostly in freight and manufacturing, would amount to around 28,000.

However, the Metropolitan Planning Council said the project would drain jobs out of Illinois into Indiana, hurting employment in Chicago, Cook and the collar counties excepting Will County. IDOT officials said they stand behind the Illiana project.

A number of interested parties here and it is not clear how this will turn out. It is a classic urban planning issue: one side claiming economic growth, federal money, and jobs while the other side disputes the growth figures and asks who will be left on the hook if the road doesn’t generate the money it is supposed to. Growth is a pretty powerful motivator – particularly in a state that needs positive economic news as well as a Chicago region that is struggling, if not in reality, then perhaps always in its own perceptions – but difficult financial realities make a $1 billion+ project difficult to quickly approve.

UPDATE: The above article wasn’t the clearest on the next steps in the process. Here is some more details from the Chicago Tribune.

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning board needed a 12-vote supermajority of its 15 members to remove the Illiana from its comprehensive plan, but opponents of the project could only muster 10 votes.

The spotlight will now fall on members of a companion agency, the Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Committee, who will meet on the issue Thursday.

And the voting seemed to go along geographic lines:

One of the CMAP board members whose vote could have helped turn the tide against the Illiana failed to show for the meeting.

Andrew Madigan, an appointee of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, was absent, as he was last year when the Illiana originally came up for the planning agency’s approval. Emanuel’s other four appointees voted against the Illiana.

Madigan is the son of House Speaker Michael Madigan. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Also casting votes against the Illiana were four of five suburban Cook County representatives; and the representatives from Lake and McHenry counties.

Voting in favor of the Illiana were representatives from Will, DuPage and Kane Counties, and the representative from south Cook County.

Voters closer to the highway seem to have been in favor while those further away – Chicago and the northern counties – voted against it.

Summarizing the sides for and against the Illiana Expressway

The Daily Herald does a nice job laying out the opposing positions regarding the Illiana Expressway. There seems to be a little bit of everything needed for a really contentious development debate:

1. Lots of money is at stake for building the highway.

2. Thousands of jobs for construction and in projected economic development. Perhaps more importantly, who gets to take credit for the jobs? Next, would these jobs take away from potential jobs elsewhere?

3. Questions about whether the highway is really needed to ease truck traffic.

4. Whether the highway will serve an area ripe for suburban development (southern Will County) or whether this is primarily about shipping freight.

5. Politicians from elsewhere in the Chicago region differ on whether the road is good for the region. Additionally, some argue the highway projects they support are more important and deserve the money.

6. Is there enough money behind this public-private partnership so that state taxpayers aren’t left on the hook?

All of this reminds me that building highways was probably a lot simpler fifty years ago. For those who want more highways today, it is too bad they didn’t have the foresight to construct them back in earlier eras of the interstate system.

Gearing up for a “quick-take” approach to the land for the Illiana Expressway

The Illiana Expressway has been talked about for decades but now it looks like the government is determining how to acquire the land:

Compounding the fear for the couple and hundreds of others who live along or near the 47-mile corridor is legislation pending in the Illinois House that would give the state controversial “quick-take” power to acquire land for the project.

Quick-take allows local governments to act fast in seizing land for public projects, skipping the possibly lengthy legal proceedings under eminent domain condemnation.

Anxiety levels are sky-high among many farmers and homeowners who could be affected by the expressway that would connect Illinois and Indiana. Public meetings have been standing room only. Property owners in Lake County, Ind., and Will County have been flocking to an interactive map at to see whether their homes, businesses, backyards or back 40s are within the path.

“There’s no question property can be condemned for a highway. The state or whoever is going to get it,” said Dan Tarlock, a professor at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. “The question is how much the landowner is going to get paid. Quick-take is designed to take first and then fight about the money.”…

State Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Chicago Heights, sponsored the quick-take legislation in the Senate, where it passed 44-8 on March 28. She said the measure is necessary to streamline the process so that ground can be broken for the Illiana by 2016…

Hutchinson, whose district includes much of the Illiana corridor, said the project is vital for job creation and economic development in southern Cook and northern Will counties.

This is a classic situation pitting the interests of the “greater good” versus individual property owners. The article also suggests there is little or no opposition to the project itself, rather the opposition is to how the land is seized. I wonder why the article doesn’t talk more about what prices landowners get for their property in the quick-take process compared to a more protracted process. Isn’t that what is at stake here?

Looking at the proposed routes for the expressway, who exactly is this supposed to serve? Here is the overview of the project:

Previous studies have indicated possible benefits for an east-west transportation corridor extending from I-55 in Illinois to I-65 in Indiana. These include providing an alternate route for motorists traveling the I-90/94 corridor, relieving traffic on the I-80 Borman/Kingery Expressway and U.S. 30, serving as a bypass for trucks around the congested metropolitan highways, providing access to one of the largest “inland port” intermodal freight areas in the U.S. and the proposed South Suburban Airport, supporting economic development in this area, and the potential for substantial job creation. Will County, IL was one of the fastest-growing counties in the U.S. between 2000 and 2010, adding 175,000 residents and increasing demand for additional transportation options.

This doesn’t seem aimed at the Chicago area really because a better route for the Chicago region might be to extend I-355 south and then loop it over to I-65. Is this primarily for warehouses in Will County so they can have easier access to both I-55 and I-65? Are there expectations for more suburban growth south of Chicago?

A reminder: some of funding for studying the Illiana Expressway was to come from the increased tolls on Chicago area highways.