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Commentary: Andrew Steele: Time to see Illiana as an opportunity

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Updated: August 26, 2013 2:10AM



One of the old photographs lining the walls leading to the Sun-Times newsroom shows the clearing of land in Chicago for the construction of what’s now known as the Eisenhower Expressway.

Times were different, particularly in terms of political sensibilities and power relationships, and that made the path of the superhighways more acceptable.

But there was also a sense that these big roads were part of a national accomplishment, and a key to national growth, that made the political steamroller as strong as the real ones flattening the cityscape.

That sense, while perhaps muted, is still what drives the construction of major highways. Sometimes it’s easy to focus on the “back yard” aspect of it all, but “not in my backyard” get steamrolled as easily as a city neighborhood when wider interests are at work.

Is that fair? Any exercise of eminent domain, or condemnation, or whatever euphemism one prefers, grates against respect for private property, particularly when people’s homes are impacted. And there are indirect impacts on property that affect its value — sound, view and increased local traffic, in the case of new highways.

Sometimes the NIMBY argument wins, but generally only when the project at hand is predominantly local.

As the Illiana Expressway proceeds toward construction, the local opposition continues to face reality as expressed by Illiana project manager Steve Schilke, of the Illinois Department of Transportation: “This area has been known as a bottleneck of the nation for a long time.”

There’s a consensus among transportation people, public and private, that this stretch of highway — and more of it, in the future, once must assume — fits into a system that’s far larger than the miles it covers.

The best approach at this point is to look at theIlliana as an opportunity, both short term in regard to jobs, and longer term in regard to the ways communities might adapt to it, ranging south down Interstate 65 to the Illiana, and west from there across the state line.



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