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Republican senators support Illiana tollway

Dan Coats IN US senator
Mark Kirk IL US senator

Dan Coats, IN US senator Mark Kirk, IL US senator

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Updated: January 8, 2014 6:11AM

CHICAGO — Republican U.S. Sens. Dan Coats of Indiana and Mark Kirk of Illinois renewed their support in the Illiana Expressway on Friday, stating the public-private partnership to fund the 47-mile highway would attract new jobs and boost the Chicago-area economy.

Expected to cost around $1.5 billion, the new toll road will connect Interstate 55 in Illinois to Interstate 65 in Indiana, passing by Wilmington, Ill., Peotone, Ill., and, in Indianaq, Lowell.

Coats’ staff has estimated that building the road will create more than 9,000 construction jobs, and say the roadway will generate $2.4 billion to $3.8 billion over the 30-year life of the partnership.

Coats said anyone who takes Interstate 80/94 can see the need to find ways to reduce traffic congestion. Shipping traffic is expected to increase as intermodal shipping in Joliet, Ill., increases.

The three counties’ total population also is expected to grow by more than 850,000 people over the next 30 years.

“If you take the long look at this, we have obligations to consider what is best for the area we represent,” Coats said. “If we don’t take this opportunity, our concern is those businesses looking to expand in this area will say it’s too congested.”

By working through a public-private partnership, sometimes called a “P3,” for short, Kirk said, the risk to the public purse can be minimized.

“A P3 model, if done right, can provide the capital needed, without putting the burden on the taxpayer,” Kirk said.

Critics in Lowell are concerned about urban sprawl and the highway’s possible effect on the environment.

Coats said individual jurisdictions can control development through zoning.

“It can bring a lot of great benefits and jobs,” he said, “but they have the right to regulate as they see fit.”

When asked about the loss of farm land and environmental damage, Kirk said Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, as a liberal Democrat, would likely keep environmental concerns in mind.

“I don’t know of a single road project that has not been controversial,” Kirk said.

The Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission will vote Dec. 12 on including the Illiana project in its long-term plan, a move required to receive federal approval. The NIRPC Transportation Policy Committee recommended including the highway on Dec. 3, and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning approved the Illinois leg of the project Oct. 17.

Will County Board member Don Moran, D-Romeoville, Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association President Mike Sturino and Operating Engineers Local 150 Financial Secretary David Fagan also attended Friday’s news conference to show their support for the project.

If approved, work on the highway is expected to begin in 2015 and be complete by 2018.

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