Editorial: Rauner's wise move to kill the ill-conceived Illiana

  • The route of the proposed Illiana Expressway

    The route of the proposed Illiana Expressway

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Updated 6/4/2015 3:43 PM

The South suburban transportation proposal known as the Illiana Expressway has never gotten much respect from the people who know the region's transportation needs.

The Illinois Department of Transportation didn't care for it. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning staff studied it intensively and declared it, at a cost of $1.5 billion, a waste of money unlikely to provide the transportation relief it was intended for. The CMAP board even rejected -- twice -- the idea of including the project among Illinois' priorities for federally funded road projects.

 

But ignoring the advice of the experts, former Gov. Pat Quinn championed the highway, which conveniently approached the proposed site for a Peotone Airport, another expensive and questionable proposal he supported.

With Quinn out of the picture, Gov. Bruce Rauner suspended the project in January and this week took the opportunity of the state's budget impasse to withdraw any further funding, declaring its price tag too high and its benefits too few.

Amen.

To completely nail the coffin of this boondoggle, a host of administrative steps must be undertaken and one can only hope they will be. But at least for now, IDOT has removed the Illiana from its multiyear plan and it will not be sucking away the limited transportation dollars available for Illinois' legitimate highway needs.

It also seems reasonable to hope that the thinking that enabled the Illiana to make it as far as it did in the first place also will be jettisoned from the state's political discourse. Regional and labor interests promoted the project, claiming it would produce local investment and jobs. And as happens all too often in Illinois politics, their political clout overcame the objections of planners who showed clearly that the project would not work and of environmentalists who demonstrated its threats to sensitive rural ecologies.

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The highway, which would connect I-55 in Illinois to I-65 in Indiana, was intended to provide an alternative to I-80 for truck traffic pouring out of the CenterPoint Intermodal Center near Joliet. It originally was conceived as a joint public-private partnership, but planners demonstrated that in order to be feasible, its tolls would 0 have to be so high that most truckers would shun the roadway and stick to I-80 anyway. So unappealing was the plan that its initial solicitation for private partners didn't produce a single bidder.

Meanwhile, the Illiana's primary impact on Illinois employment was expected to be a handful of temporary construction jobs, while Indiana would benefit from the bulk of what few permanent jobs the highway produced.

As persuasive as all this research is, it wasn't able to overcome the power of political muscle in Illinois. That is the larger story of the Illiana, and it's a cautionary observation for those of us who revel in the project's demise.

The Illiana, for now at least, is dead, and that's a good thing for Illinois taxpayers and motorists. But the emphasis on politics over reason that, but for a state budget crisis, enabled a hugely expensive, counterproductive project to force its way into existence is still all too much a part of Illinois decision making.

On that score, Rauner and state lawmakers still have a lot of work to do.

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