Planning committee restores controversial Illiana toll road to its plan

By J’nelle Agee

The Metropolitan Planning Organization held a meeting at Willis Tower Thursday to update its regional development plan.
The Metropolitan Planning Organization held a meeting at Willis Tower Thursday to update its regional development plan.

The controversial Illiana toll road that would cut horizontally through Illinois is back on the table. Members of the Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Committee voted Thursday to reinstate the roadway in its long-term development plan.

The committee voted 10-8 to include the Illiana toll road in its updated 2040 regional development plan for the seven northeastern counties in Illinois, which include Cook County.

The planning agency created the GO TO 2040 plan to develop initiatives and define ways to fund them. Its goal is to align public policies and maximize scarce resources as the region grows its population by more than 2 million residents in the next quarter century.

The project would connect Interstate 65 in Indiana to Interstate 55 in Illinois. The 50-mile span is expected to cost more than $1.5 billion.

The Illiana plan has received support from Gov. Pat Quinn, who believes the proposed toll road will create jobs and boost the area’s freight industry.

The initial plan was adopted in 2010. The committee is required by federal law to meet every four-years. But in 2013 the committee met and voted to exclude the Illiana from the plan.

“It questions their credibility to make decisions when they continue to go back and forth,” said Teresa Kernc, mayor of the Village of Diamond in downstate Illinois. “I’m glad the Illiana is back in the plan.”

The Illiana toll road has been a controversial subject ever since it was proposed. Critics say it’s costly and unneeded and will result in tax increases. Environmentalists are concerned about the welfare of the surrounding farmland and wildlife.

Supporters of the plan believe the Illiana will be an economic stimulus to the state and boost job growth. It is expected to create approximately 9,000 short-term and 28,000 long-term jobs.

“The Illiana will help save lives by giving the truckers an alternate route to Interstate 80, it will provide a safe and swift route to Interstate 55,” said Illinois Sen. Pat McGuire (D-Crest Hill). “Illiana will improve our environment, strengthen our economy and it will save lives.”

Illinois Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Chicago Heights) addressed the committee and noted that the area where the road will be built has a population that is larger than many U.S. cities including St. Paul, Minneapolis, Cleveland and St. Louis. She told the committee that the toll road would be beneficial to her constituents: “This is important to us.”

The committee is composed of members from various government organizations across the state. There is no currently scheduled follow-up meeting.