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Moustis: Chicago planning agency no friend

Republican Caucus Chairman Jim Moustis Frankfort Township.

Republican Caucus Chairman Jim Moustis, of Frankfort Township.

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Updated: September 19, 2013 10:02AM



When it comes to the proposed Illiana tollway, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning is more concerned about Chicago than Will County, according to county board member Jim Moustis.

“They don’t have Will County’s interests at heart,” he said Thursday during the monthly county board meeting. “Never have, probably never will. We should understand that.”

CMAP staff have criticized the Illiana plan because they don’t want to see the growth, development and investment that Will County was drawing as one of the fastest growing counties in the nation, said Moustis of Frankfort Township who chairs the board’s Republican caucus.

“They want it north,” Moustis said of the development. “They want it next to Chicago. We’re now becoming a competitive economic base to Chicago and that’s the motivation. They don’t want to compete. They want to hold us down.”

While county board Speaker Herb Brooks Jr. said he agreed with Moustis that the road should be built, he disagreed with the characterization of CMAP as anti-Will County. He said the agency seems to be more willing to work with Will County in recent months.

“What I’ve seen since I’ve been the speaker of this board is some open door policy, some cooperation. ... I do believe CMAP wants to work with us here in Will County.”

But board member Don Gould (R-Shorewood) wasn’t so sure.

“I’d like to see a (CMAP) change of heart Mr. Speaker, but I haven’t seen it yet.”

The board members’ comments were triggered by a letter signed by county executive Larry Walsh and Brooks (D-Joliet) that urges CMAP to include the tollway in its Go To 2040 long-range planning document.

The letter lobbying for the Illiana will be submitted as the county’s official comment on a CMAP staff analysis that criticized IDOT’s planning for the Illiana so far.

The CMAP analysis, which was released July 30, questioned IDOT’s population, job and cost estimates for the road and raised concern about environmental issues and urban sprawl. Urban sprawl is a term Moustis said he doesn’t like because it makes it sound like Will County is just an extension of Chicago.

“I don’t know how Will County became part of the Chicago metropolitan area,” he said. “ ... I believe that we are a stand-alone economy.”

If CMAP’s Go To 2040 plan isn’t amended to include the Illiana, the road’s Tier Two Environmental Impact Study, which is under way now, cannot be completed and the road would not get built. The federal government requires such projects to be included in regional planning agencies’ long-range plans.

The 47-mile road, which would cost an estimated $1.2 billion, would stretch from Interstate 55 near Wilmington to Interstate 65 near Lowell, Ind. The entire Illinois leg of the road would be in Will County.

IDOT has proposed making the road a tollway that would be built with the state’s first public-private partnership.

In their letter, Walsh and Brooks talk about the road’s benefits. The Illiana would help get truck traffic spawned by intermodal centers in Joliet and Elwood off local roads and interstates 80 and 55, they said.

“As the only east west bypass route around Chicago and Lake Michigan, I-80/94 from northwest Indiana through Will County is overburdened by trucks,” the letter states. “Congestion and delay on I-80, as well as on I-55, threaten productivity, safety and quality of life in the region.”

The road’s benefits also have been touted by IDOT officials and Gov. Pat Quinn, who appears to have fast-tracked the project. That acceleration could be slowed by a federal lawsuit filed in Chicago on July 10 by three environmental groups attempting to block the project.

The CMAP board and the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s policy committee will vote in October on the Illiana’s inclusion in the plan.

To comment on the proposed amendment to include the Illiana in the Go To 2040 plan before the Sept. 3 deadline, write to CMAP, Attn: plan amendments, 233 S. Wacker Drive, Suite 800, Chicago, IL, 60606; send an email to info@ cmap.illinois.gov; or call (312) 454-0400.



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