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Article updated: 2/20/2013 5:41 PM

Tollway bows out of Illiana Expressway project

By Marni Pyke

Illinois tollway leaders are content leaving the Illiana Expressway to the private sector for now.

The timing isn't right to adopt the project that Illinois and Indiana want to build, agency officials said Wednesday.

"At this point it doesn't look like a road that the Illinois tollway would take on to build, at least," tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur said.

The Illinois Department of Transportation announced Jan. 18 that it had identified a recommended route for the Illiana corridor, which would link I-55 near Wilmington in Illinois to I-65 in Indiana. The expressway is meant to ease interstate truck traffic on the Tri-State Tollway and other area roads.

The state next is expected to hire consultants to figure out how to pay for it but all signs are pointing toward a public-private partnership. Illinois and Indiana lawmakers approved legislation in 2010 enabling both states to enter into an agreement with a private contractor to construct the 47-mile expressway.

The Illinois State Toll Highway Authority has its hands full at the moment with a $12 billion road building program that includes an interchange at the Tri-State Tollway and I-57, an extension of the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway and widening the Jane Addams Tollway.

In addition, the agency is contemplating undertaking the expansion of Route 53 into Lake County.

Coordinating with Indiana over construction and tolling also would be complicated, Lafleur said.

But since the Illiana would be tolled by the private company that builds it, the toll authority could assist in setting up a fee system on the Illinois side, given that they have the infrastructure and expertise, she added.

"Let's see what the private sector can bring to the table and leave the door open to partner as an operator or down the road if there's opportunity to be helpful in a technical capacity," Lafleur said.

The Illiana is expected to draw 41,000 vehicles daily, with nearly 60 percent -- 24,000 -- trucks. Initial plans call for interchanges at I-65, I-57, I-55 and five unspecified locations.

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