Budget Woes Force Illinois to Scrap Plans to Build Illiana Expressway Toll Road

Source: Illiana Corridor
By Eugene Mulero, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the June 15 print edition of Transport Topics.

Illinois’ looming budget woes have prompted Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner to halt a high-profile proposed toll road meant to speed freight trucks across several interstate highways with Indiana.

The governor’s move was one of several dozen cost-cutting initiatives announced as a way to identify nearly $4 billion to fill a hole in the state’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

“The Illiana Expressway will not move forward at this time. As a result, the Illinois Department of Transportation will remove the project from its current multiyear plan. It is the determination of IDOT that the project costs exceed currently available resources. The department will begin the process of suspending all existing project contracts and procurements,” according to a statement from the governor’s office.

The proposed 47-mile, four-lane toll road would have linked interstates 55 and 65 in the northeastern part of the state and northwestern Indiana. It had a proposed price tag of $1.3 billion to $2.8 billion.

Freight traffic will remain congested in that region with the project halted because there won’t be a corridor that would have added capacity.

Matt Hart, executive director of the Illinois Trucking Association, told Transport Topics on June 9 that his group has not backed the project because state planners have not provided specifics about its proposed toll fees.

“We have always been neutral . . . mainly because no one has ever been able to tell us how much that truck toll would be. So we never supported it,” Hart said, adding that his members had not expressed a strong demand for the project.

Gary Langston, CEO of the Indiana Motor Truck Association, expressed disappointment that the project was halted.

“When you do what we do, we’re always looking for new, better infrastructure and there’s been a lot of time and effort, money and planning put into this,” he said.

In Illinois, the project was strongly backed by Rauner’s predecessor, former Gov. Pat Quinn (D). Rauner defeated Quinn in the latest election.

Proponents claimed the project would have improved the flow of freight in the region, but critics were persistent in arguing it would not become the freight corridor envisioned.

The project was among several large-scale infrastructure proposals nationwide opposed by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, an advocacy organization. In 2014, the group identified 11 wasteful highway plans around the nation that totaled about $13 billion. The Illiana Expressway was high on its list.

“It’s about time that states realize they can’t just spend federal dollars on costly highway expansions without demonstrating a need,” said John Olivieri, national director for the 21st Century Transportation Campaign at U.S. PIRG.

“This wasteful highway boondoggle didn’t stand up under scrutiny.”

A report by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning determined last year that the project would have had a “negligible” effect on the region’s traffic, suggesting it would not lead to the relief in congestion its proponents claimed.