The Illiana Expressway was given an endorsement from Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence on Friday at a three-state regional summit at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
“Whether it's the Illiana or any mode of transportation, you have to go where the demand is,” Quinn said.
“You have to remember the original Tollway was called the Tri-State Tollway,” he went on to say to the 220 people in attendance. “We have to have the attitude we are all in this together.”
At a panel discussion later, Pence was just as emphatic in his endorsement.
“Infrastructure is one of the natural areas where you have to think regionally, because roads don't stop at state borders,” Pence said.
"We look forward to the state of Illinois doing its part," Pence said. "But the state of Indiana wants to make it clear we want this project to go forward."
The two governor's thumbs-up of the Illiana Expressway comes in the face of mounting opposition to the proposed bi-state road in Chicago, where a vote will take place in two weeks.
The road also has been controversial in Northwest Indiana, where those living in its path show up regularly at public hearings and other forums to protest.
Former CenterPoint Properties CEO Michael Mullen asked Quinn during the morning panel about the Illiana Expressway, pointing out it would help get trucks off local roads from intermodal facilities like the one his company developed a decade ago at the former arsenal in Joliet.
“There are naysayers that don't quite get get it,” Mullen said of the Illiana Expressway. “But I welcome anyone to drive down there and see the amount of truck traffic moving out of there.”
The Illiana Expressway would connect Interstate 65 near Lowell with Interstate 55, near Wilmington, Ill.
Others on Quinn's panel gave the Illiana Expressway an OK at Mullen's request. Those giving their nod to the road were Chicago Department of Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino, Illinois Tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur, BSNF Railway Vice President Vann Cunningham and trucking company Celadon CEO Paul Will.
The five served on the transportation and logistics panel at the Federal Reserve-convened Tri-State Summit on Regional Competitiveness. Other sponsors were the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and the Alliance for Regional Development.
The summit was convened to follow up on a study done by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which emphasized the need for the Milwaukee-Chicago-Gary area to develop their economies as one.
One of the last panels of the day included officials from three Northwest Indiana companies talking about how green technologies can drive the Midwest's economic resurgence.
NIPSCO CEO Jim Stanley, who is Indiana chairman for the Alliance for Regional Development, moderated the panel and drew out the success stories of his panelists.
Fair Oaks Farms CEO Gary Corbett started out talking cows but ended up talking manure – and lots of it.
The farm off I-65 takes the manure from the 37,000 cows it milks and converts it into several products. The chief is methane gas to power the farm and the farm's fleet of 60 milk tankers, believed to be the largest commercial CNG fleet in the nation.
The farm is also developing processes to turn the manure into stable fertilizer products and to fuel algae farming.
ArcelorMittal Automotive Product Applications Director Blake Zuidema spoke about projects like a new boiler at the Indiana Harbor steel mill that uses waste blast furnace gas to produce electricity.