* I have often chided Downstaters and suburbanites for petty, counter-productive regionalism. This time, it’s Chicago’s turn.
For years, Illinois leaders have been scolded for not being more like our neighboring states’ leaders. Why can’t our government come up with innovative ideas like theirs?
Former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels was hoisted so high up on a pedestal by some folks here that he was nearly elevated to demi-god status.
So, what happened when Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, who was stung badly when Daniels compared Illinois’ governance to “The Simpsons” TV show, finally teamed up with the Hoosier state’s sainted erstwhile governor on a massive public-private infrastructure project?
What happened when Daniels, who signed a union-busting “right to work” bill into law, negotiated a significant compromise with some major Illinois unions for that project?
Well, many of those same Daniels worshippers have flip-flopped and are now screaming that the world’s about to end.
The project is the proposed Illiana Expressway. It’s a “public-private partnership” designed to be a freight corridor through southern Will County from Interstate 55, across I-57 over to Indiana’s I-65.
If you’ve traveled down I-55 through Will County you couldn’t help but notice the unbelievably dense truck traffic. That’s because the county has developed a massive “inland port,” connecting railway and truck cargo shipments.
There’s even been some hope that the proposed third regional airport near the Peotone I-57 exit could complement the Will County operation with cargo flights.
What’s that? Peotone?
Ah, we’ve stumbled across the magic word.
Chicago has been trying to kill the third airport idea for decades, and it has so far succeeded. But when former Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. — the airport’s biggest booster — self-immolated, Gov. Quinn stepped in and seized control and the airport now looks like more of a possibility than it ever has.
A major new road running right by that proposed airport would be another huge boost to the airport’s future, so the road has to be stopped. It’s hardly a secret.
A lot of numbers are being tossed around, but keep in mind that this would be a toll road funded at least in part by private investors.
One objection to the road is that it would create more unsightly urban sprawl. But even the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), which this week voted to disapprove of the project, admits that the freight corridor likely won’t lead to more sprawl.
The main complaint by CMAP, though, is that the road could expose the state to “significant financial risk.”
If the state’s toll revenue projections come up short, then the state could wind up paying the tab, which CMAP claims might be as much as $1 billion. And if that happens it could mean less money for much needed Chicago-area projects.
There are most definitely some regional jealousies at play here as well. A win for another region is too often seen as a loss for Chicago. So, it was no accident when CMAP Chairman Gerald Bennett ridiculed the project this week as a “highway in nowhereland.”
The bottom line here is that Illinois desperately needs jobs and innovative development. And it really needs to get beyond the petty regionalism that has held it back for so many years. If Chicago wants a similar project, then Chicago ought to make it happen.
So, I have a two-part suggestion.
Just to be safe, a neutral third party should review the state’s toll revenue projections.
Then, if the numbers work, let’s see if private investors really do step up to help finance this thing. If investor interest is weak, and no other non-tax funding sources can be found, then everybody could move on to something different.
Needless to say, this being Illinois, I’m not exactly holding my breath.
* Illiana Expressway plan looks like it will pass
* Kadner: Quinn asks mayors to save Illiana: Quinn also criticized Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel who opposes the planned tollway, for taking a “parochial attitude.” Emanuel has indicated that he fears financial support for the Illiana Expressway will drain money away from Chicago road projects. “We need to take a regional approach,” Quinn said. “What helps one area of the region helps the entire region.”… State Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Olympia Fields) came out of the meeting with Quinn and said, “If it’s time to draw a line in the sand, and ask who stands with us or against us, I’m ready to do that.” Hutchinson said she had worked with Chicago legislators and others, helping them to pass bills that would benefit their areas, and was “tired of watching people turn around and say they’re opposed to projects whenever they’re about to help the south suburbs.” “If they want my help in the future, if they want my vote, they’re going to have to show some support for projects in the area I represent,” she said.
* Quinn throws support behind Illiana: Home Depot, Quinn said, was already looking to expand at the intermodal site, using it as a center for 340 stores. Quinn said there was a “great deal” of interest from private investors in building the expressway. He said the public-private partnership, which would presumably be funded with tolls, would be “the first if its kind.”
* Reiher: CMAP’s Bennett a Nowhere Man