* Greg Hinz…
Tucked into the $23.5 billion five-year transportation program Pritzker unveiled yesterday (see pages 10-11) was a whopping $205.5 million for road construction work on Eagle Lake Road and Interstate 57. The proposed airport site is just to the east, and even though not one spade of dirt had been turned for runways or one airline has signed up, the road work is slated to go ahead.
Included: $150 million for a new interchange on I-57 at Eagle Lake Road, between 2021 and 2025; $19.5 million for construction engineering, and $10 million for land acquisition. Add it all up and it comes to $205.5 million, enough to build a couple of new high schools on the South Side of Chicago or speed western access to O’Hare International Airport, enough to begin work on extending the Chicago Transit Authority’s Red Line to the south city limits, or to fund the state’s annual hike in payments to its pension funds. […]
A spokesman for the Illinois Department of Transportation confirmed the road plan increases that figure but deferred other questions to Pritzker’s media office, which said in a statement: “This funding represents an investment to promote critical economic development in the south suburbs, and the administration looks forward to continuing to discuss next steps with stakeholders.”
Maybe so. But how about guaranteeing that someone actually is going to use the proposed airfield before spending more than $200 million on roads through what now are just farm fields? As the Environmental Law & Policy Center’s Howard Learner put it in an email: “Illinois has a huge backlog of vital transit, rail, highway and bridge projects that improve community mobility. . . .Unfortunately, IDOT is allocating even more public funds than the Legislature appropriated in order to support the Peotone airport project that is opposed by the leading commercial airlines and doesn’t have a viable financial plan. Illinois has higher priorities.”
The state cannot constitutionally use Motor Fuel Tax revenues to build schools or fund the pension systems. But the caution urged here is legit. There is literally nothing at that proposed Eagle Lake Road interchange. If the airport is never built, it’ll be an exit to nowhere. And our other transportation needs are, indeed, very large.