|Length:||50 mi (80 km)|
The Illiana Expressway, also known as the Illiana Corridor, is a controversial proposed toll road between northern portions of the U.S. states of Illinois and Indiana. Formal Environmental Impact Statement studies were begun in April 2011 and are being led jointly by the Illinois Department of Transportation and Indiana Department of Transportation. It is planned as being approximately 47 miles (80 km) in length, mostly in Illinois, connecting Interstate 55 in Illinois to Interstate 65 in Indiana.
The vision of the Illiana Corridor dates back to the 1909 Plan of Chicago by Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett that included an “Outer Encircling Highway” serving northeastern Illinois and northwest Indiana. Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett’s 1909 Plan of Chicago recommends that “At the earliest possible date measures should be taken for beginning what may be termed the outer encircling highway.”
History and planning
The Illiana Expressway would become the third east–west expressway to connect northeastern Illinois and northwest Indiana. In 1953, the Kingery-Borman expressway combination opened. Subsequently a part of Interstate 80, this route would become part of one of the most important coast-to-coast Interstate highways in the United States. The Chicago Skyway opened five years later, on April 16, 1958. With the newly opened Indiana Toll Road, the Skyway and Toll Road became part of a second coast-to-coast Interstate highway, as Interstate 90 ran through the city of Chicago proper.
The Skyway-Indiana Toll Road combination paralleled the shoreline of Lake Michigan, and was a popular road until the Dan Ryan Expressway opened in 1962, with Interstate 80/94 providing a free route from Chicago to northwestern Indiana. Ideas for an east-west limited access highway further south, connecting southern Lake County Indiana with Will County Illinois, have been studied by transportation planners in efforts prior to the current Illiana Corridor Study, notably by the following: South Suburban Freeway Study (Murphy Engineering, 1972); I-80/I-94 Congestion Relief Study (Wilbur Smith, 1992); Northwest Indiana Corridor Study (Burgess & Niple, 2000); and the South Suburban Airport (Tier One/Tier Two) (AECOM, 2002/In Progress).
In June 2010 governors Pat Quinn of Illinois and Mitch Daniels of Indiana formally initiated development of an Illiana Expressway under the heading of the "Illiana Corridor". The two states' transportation departments were charged with examining potential routes and proposing one through the formal federal interstate-highway planning process. In late 2012 the bi-state planning group released a draft Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement which was made final in January 2013. The "Tier 2" process is now underway focused on the specific route which the planners have selected and are advocating. That route runs from Wilmington, Illinois to a point on I-65 east of Lowell, Indiana. The Illiana is proposed a public-private partnership in which private investors would provide the capital funding for the road's construction in exchange for toll revenues.
Because both northeastern Illinois and northwestern Indiana have state- and federally-recognized regional planning agencies which have published formal regional plans, under federal law the Illiana Expressway must be reflected in those plans. The Illiana was listed as a fiscally unconstrained project in the "GOTO2040" plan published by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), and as an "illustrative" project in the 2040 Plan published by the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC). The Illiana Corridor planners requested both planning agencies to amend those plans to include the expressway as a regional priority project. A committee of CMAP approved the inclusion of the Illiana in its GOTO2040 plan in a meeting on October 17, 2013. The Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission, NIRPC, board is scheduled to vote on the project's inclusion in its 2040 regional plan on December 12, 2013.
In July 2013 two environmental groups and one local organization filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration, alleging that the federal agencies had violated federal law by signing off on an environmental impact study that failed to establish the need for the Illiana Expressway and that did not properly evaluate alternatives for the proposed route.
On July 30, 2013 The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning's (CMAP) internal staff analysis of the proposed highway became public. That analysis was highly critical and generated attention in the Chicago media.
On September 4, 2013 a Chicago-based non-profit organization called the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) released its own analysis of the proposed highway. The group declared that, "A robust analysis by MPC ultimately has determined that the Illiana Expressway would yield few benefits in exchange for high—and uncertain—costs. MPC opposes the Illiana Expressway’s inclusion in GO TO 2040."
During this time, CMAP was collecting public comment on the inclusion of the Illiana in the regional plan, ("Of the 965 comments, 169 were supportive of the proposed amendment and 796 comments expressed opposition to it."). On September 4 the agency's Environment and Natural Resources Committee voted 6-2 (with 5 abstentions) against recommending to the full board that the Illiana be included in the GOTO 2040 Plan.
On September 6 one Chicago newspaper columnist called the Illiana "Quinn's road to nowhere."
Local grassroots groups on both sides of the state border have expressed their opposition to the proposed expressway both at their own public meetings and while attending public hearings of the various public bodies involved.
On September 25, 2013 the Chicago Tribune, the largest-circulation newspaper in the Midwest, published an editorial that was highly critical of the proposed tollway. Headlined "Put the brakes on the Illiana Expressway", the editorial concluded "Tell us again — why is this a good idea? CMAP's role here is to set priorities. The Illiana Expressway doesn't make the cut."
On September 27 CMAP staff issued their formal recommendation regarding the request for the Illiana Expressway to be added to the regional plan. The agency staff told their board's Transportation Committee that the proposed tollway "is broadly incompatible with the overall goals and recommendations of GO TO 2040. Staff recommends that it not be added to the plan at this time." They concluded that "The proposed facility’s estimated cost and potential financing structure expose the State of Illinois to extensive financial risk"; that "IDOT has used growth projections that are not consistent with GO TO 2040 forecasts"; that "The proposed facility’s ability to spur or support economic growth remains unclear"; and that the highway would provide only "negligible" improvements to road congestion. That CMAP staff recommendation inspired a fresh round of criticism in the Chicago news media, including a second editorial published by the Tribune and then a third.
In late October a bond downgrade related to a similar project in Texas was reported in Chicago.
In early November in Lake County Indiana a member of the state's legislature and a member of the county board, both Republicans, publicly opposed the project. On November 12th the Lowell (IN) Town Council voted to remove Councilman Donald Parker, D-3rd, from his seat on the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission so as to ensure that the town's vote on the regional council was in opposition to the highway project. Lowell Council President Edgar Corns, R-5th, was appointed in Parker's place. That action followed a packed and contentious public meeting on the subject held in Lowell on November 5th.
On November 12th Tollroads News argued that private investors would not be asked to risk their capital on the Illiana Expressway project. "The Industry Forum in Indiana made clear, as did the Illinois DOT request for information (RFI), that there was no taste for a toll concession in which the investors carry the traffic and revenue risk (and reward.) So both states are going for AP-P3s in which payments for furnishing and operating the tollroad are guaranteed by contract regardless of traffic and revenue....the biggest longterm risk - of inadequate traffic and revenue to pay the availability payments - is assumed by future taxpayers of the state....Debt is incurred by the P3 group and the availability payments are secured to the “full faith and credit” of the state. So a kind of new entitlement program is established for future legislators to support on an annual basis. The Indiana RFQ cites the state’s AAA credit rating and business friendly environment as a positive in favor of participation." On November 19th the journal further clarified that "The great bulk of the risk - residing in the traffic and revenue forecasts - is assumed by the state and its taxpayers just as surely as if it was a state tollroad operation. AP-P3s then don’t look for real 'investors.' They look for contractors, big contractors with a big contract, but a contract all the same."
On November 14th Marc Chase, a columnist with the Times of Northwest Indiana, devoted his column to opposing the highway project, a position contrary to the newspaper's strong editorial support of the Illiana Expressway.
Will County officials have continued to push for the road. "By providing new capacity and connectivity with the interstate system at I-55, I-57 and I-65, the Illiana will improve regional mobility and the efficient movement of freight," Will County Executive Lawrence Walsh said in a letter supporting the project. "Congestion and delay on I-80, as well as on I-55 threaten productivity, safety and quality of life in the region."
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and Indiana Governor Michael Pence, speaking on September 28 at a meeting in Chicago, reiterated their support for the project. “Whether it’s the Illiana or any mode of transportation, you have to go where the demand is,” Quinn said. Pence added, “You have to think regionally, because roads don’t stop at state borders.” Tollroads News, a trade journal covering the construction of new toll highways, also wrote about the CMAP staff recommendation.Con
On September 5th, an editorial was submitted to the Northwest Indiana Times: EDITORIAL: Illiana Expressway must go forward stating, "The Illiana Expressway is needed. It has been more than half a century since a new expressway has been built in Northwest Indiana. Traffic has grown exponentially since then, and it will continue to grow. A new expressway is needed, and the Illiana fits the bill -- with private dollars footing the bill for its construction. Pave the way for this private investment in the region's transportation infrastructure."
On October 14th, Governor Quinn underlines support for Illiana Expressway, "Gov. Pat Quinn declared himself an ally of Chicago's south suburbs Monday, offering municipalities road repair funds while also reiterating his support for the Illiana Expressway project.
On October 16th, Congresswoman Robin Kelly Reaffirms Unwavering Support for Illiana Expressway by signing a joint letter with Congressman Adam Kinzinger, and Congressman Bill Foster. Kelly states, “The Illiana Expressway project has strong bi-state support, including deep support from political, labor and business leaders from South Cook, Will and Kankakee counties,” Kelly said. “We stand united. It’s not often that a group as diverse as this stands together. It’s important to show our solidarity to everyone before the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) takes its crucial vote on Oct. 17.”
On October 17th, an editorial in the Chicago Tribune was submitted by Congresswoman Robin Kelly, Perspective: Full steam ahead with the Illiana Expressway in support of the project, "First, the Illiana is economically viable despite claims to the contrary. Will County is teeming with more than enough residents and businesses to support and justify the construction of the expressway. And the Illiana has the strong support of political, labor and business leaders from south Cook, Will and Kankakee counties due to the potential for tremendous economic growth in the region. I don't have to tell you how rare it is that a group as diverse as this stands united in support of a single project. Second, the Illiana will not — I repeat — will not take money away from other transportation projects. The project will be financed through a public-private partnership that will expedite construction of the expressway while reducing costs."
On October 27th the deputy director of Indiana's Department of Transportation described his agency's support for the project in a newspaper guest column.
The Times of Northwest Indiana, which is now the largest daily newspaper in that region of the state, has continued to editorialize in favor of the Illiana project.
Official actions and status
On October 4th CMAP's Transportation Committee voted 10-7, with 5 abstentions and 6 absences, to recommend to CMAP's board that the Illiana Expressway be included in the GOTO 2040 plan. The controversy continued to attract more media attention in the Chicago region.
On October 8th sources told the Tribune that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel had decided to oppose the expressway project, which was expected to mean that the city's representatives on the CMAP board would vote against including it in the regional plan. On October 9th the CMAP vote did play out that way, resulting in the board voting 10-4 against the project's inclusion in the regional plan. That vote generated a fresh round of media and interest-group attention.
On October 17th CMAP's MPO Policy Committee, which under federal law held the final say on inclusion in the regional plan, met to act on the proposed project. The standing-room only public meeting attracted all major Chicago-area media outlets and all 19 members of the committee attended; more than three dozen citizens and local elected officials made public comments both pro and con. In the end the committee, chaired by IDOT Secretary Ann Schneider, who is an appointee of Governor Quinn, voted 11-8 for inclusion of the Illiana Expressway in the regional plan.
The next front in the ongoing process comes in Northwest Indiana, where that region's official planning agency will hold hearings and a vote on the project. Meanwhile IDOT plans to officially solicit bids for private investment in the project, according to agency Secretary Schneider.
- Official website for the Illiana Corridor study led by Illinois Department of Transportation and Indiana Department of Transportation
- Illinois Department of Transportation website for the Illiana Expressway
- Illiana Expressway? - A weblog offering news, opinion and commentary about the Illiana Toll Road project.
- Stakeholder Alternatives Summary for the Illiana Corridor