posttrib
SLIDING 
Weather Updates

Commentary: Andrew Steele: Defining Illiana is key to decision

Updated: September 10, 2013 1:23PM



The Metropolitan Planning Council last week announced its opposition to the proposed Illiana Expressway, a toll-road constructed and operated as a public/private partnership of some sort.

The MPC is a non-profit that does research on regional planning in the greater Chicago area, and advocates policies and sponsors projects meant to promote sustainable growth. It doesn’t decide anything — the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning creates a regional plan that serves as a basisi for federal funding.

But the MPC presents a challenge to the Indiana and, especially, Illinois departments of transportation that they’ll need to address.

The MPC has decided that the financing of the Illiana, both in terms of its cost and the toll revenue it will generate, is too uncertain, and could put other projects at risk; also, that the Illiana doesn’t address transportation needs; and finally, that its economic impact would be slight.

The MPC’s basic argument can be found here: http://www.metroplanning.org/uploads/cms/documents/mpc_illiana_comment_to_cmap.pdf

A much more detailed question-and-answer style document can be found here: http://www.metroplanning.org/uploads/cms/documents/illiana_faq.pdf

After reading these, one’s left wondering how anyone could ever have supported, or could continue to support after all this, the Illiana.

The MPC argument is Illinois centered — one reason to oppose the expressway, in the MPC’s opinion, is because it will promote a shift, though small, of population and economic activity from Illinois to Indiana. One can be an Indiana resident and still agree that that’s a bad thing, but it’s not explicit in the MPC argument that Indiana should join Illinois in opposing the project.

The real issue that hangs over all this, though, is the issue of what the Illiana is. The MPC is quite precise in describing it as “a proposed 47-mile limited-access tolled highway that would connect I-55 in Will County, Illinois with I-65 in Lake County, Indiana.”

That’s the Illiana that’s the basis of the argument. And you’ll see elsewhere the MPC describe it as something that’s been under discussion for decades.

But, the 47-mile toll road is not the Illiana that’s been under discussion for decades. The original idea was to extend it east, then north to the Indiana Toll Road and then to Interstate 94. That would make it more of a true bypass.

One of the other Illinois-centered aspects of the MPC argument is that traffic in Illinois won’t be significantly reduced. There’s no mention of the Borman, or anything else in Indiana. Perhaps that’s understandable with the Illiana currently being under consideration.

But, if the original Illiana plan is still the ultimate goal, then it’s much more of an Indiana highway than an Illinois one. Whether the particular road under consideration should be built is really only answerable if the full intent for the Illiana is known.

The MPC treats this as a project-in-whole, but it’s difficult to determine whether that’s really they way to think about it.

What the states, and the local agencies with responsibility, need to do is make clearer their full intent, and make arguments based on that.



© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit www.suntimesreprints.com. To order a reprint of this article, click here.