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Commentary: Steele: With Illiana, follow the money

Updated: October 22, 2013 1:15PM



On Oct. 17, the Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Committee, which makes decisions regarding regional devleopment projects in norheast Illinois, approved adding the Illiana Expressway to its list of projects eligible for federal funding.

That vote overrode an advisory vote of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning board, which opposes the Illiana based on a staff report that says the financial projections the state of Illinois has made, and the economic impact it has predicted, are wrong.

The difference between the two bodies (beyond the obvious difference that the MPO has actual power) is in their make-up. The CMAP board is more heavily weighted toward the city and Cook County; the MPO Policy Committee includes more suburban representatives, and a number of members from state agencies.

There was very much an “our turn” attitude to it, in the southern suburbs. One Cook County mayor called the Illiana a “highway to nowhere land,” “drawing jeers from Will County officials,” the Post-Tribune reported. On the one hand, there’s the sense that the developed area — the “somwhere” — should be taken care of and undeveloped land should stay that way. On the other hand, there’s the idea that more sparsly populated areas need infrastructure development to keep growing, and there’s no middle ground between growth and decline.

It seems that some of the larger transportation issues, mainly traffic relief on other expressways, including the Borman, has largely become a side issue, at least in Illinois.

And the clincher for state officials may be a relatively short-term issue: It will take a lot of people a long time to build a highway between Interstates 55 and 65. At the end of the day it’s very difficult for politicians to say “no” to that.

At the end of the day, studies analyzing finances and vehicle flows are easily steam-rolled by political interests. After the CMAP board voted not to support the Illiana, Bolingbrook Mayor Roger C. Claar said he wasn’t surprised. “They want their money spent in Chicago,” Claar said. “I understand that. It’s about money.”

The same dynamic played out, but with the opposite outcome, when the MPO committee made its decision.

Make a deal on bus barn: Hopefully the Crown Point Community School Corp. will give the city a good deal, whether as a sale or lease, on the old bus barn land on West Street.

Any financial transaction will need to be by the book, but something needs to be done with that property, and the fact that it’s been an unkempt eyesore for years puts the onus on the schools to get it done. The property did get caught up in the issue of the new library location, but there’s only so long the city should have to put up with such a large piece of abandoned public property. A quick resolution is more important than the details of a deal.



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