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N. Illinois Planning Agency Oks ‘Illiana’ Tollway

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Even so, the regional planning agency’s own analysis concluded that the route’s traffic and tolls would fall short, leaving Illinois taxpayers on the hook for up to $1.1 billion. The agency’s board of directors voted against the project, with the chairman criticizing it as a “highway in nowhere land” that would divert money from other critical projects and complaining about political pressure.

But the agency’s policy committee had the last word — and had been lobbied hard by unions, business groups and elected officials who support the tollway.

What’s more, the committee’s chairwoman is Illinois Department of Transportation Director Ann Schneider, a gubernatorial appointee who touted the corridor as a smart investment that will encourage the expansion of intermodal freight facilities eager for a new route for trucks that are getting caught in existing congestion.

Schneider said after the meeting that the vote was “a very big step” in the process, and she was eager to move forward with the state’s first public-private partnership.

IDOT will solicit requests for qualifications from interested investors in November, with the goal of short-listing potential developers by the end of the year. The department then would seek bids by the end of next summer if the project gets final federal environmental and state approvals. The project could break ground by late next year or 2015, Schneider said.

The state would acquire property required for the project.

IDOT has said it could take up to 18 years for the tolls to start generating a profit, but the state eventually could reap up to $500 million. Even so, upfront public cost would be significant, perhaps as much as $500 million for land acquisition and other costs. The state has already spent $40 million studying the project, Schneider said.

Three environmental groups have filed a federal lawsuit, claiming the Federal Highway Administration violated the law by approving an environmental study that failed to adequately assess potential impacts to endangered wildlife, critical habitat and other sensitive areas, and was based on inflated population and jobs projections. They also complain that the tollway would lead to urban sprawl.

“This was a political process. Purely political,” said Jerry Adelmann, president and CEO of Openlands, one of the plaintiffs. “We’re certainly not giving up in any way.”

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Posted by FanningCommunications on Nov 1st, 2013 and filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response by filling following comment form or trackback to this entry from your site

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