Illlinois agency questions Illiana Expressway's benefits, cost

2013-08-01T11:23:00Z 2013-12-09T10:51:27Z Illlinois agency questions Illiana Expressway's benefits, costKeith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com
August 01, 2013 11:23 am  • 

An Illinois transportation agency has issued an analysis of the Illiana Expressway that states the road's planners have sharply underestimated its costs and overestimated its benefits.

A Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning analysis posted on its Web site this week claims the expressway would deliver only about one-fifth the economic benefit claimed by backers. It also states construction cost per lane mile may be 37 percent higher than previously revealed.

Planners for the Indiana Department of Transportation and Illinois Department of Transportation have estimated the cost of building the 47-mile expressway from Interstate 65 in Indiana to Interstate 55 in Illinois at $1.3 billion. They hope private investors will kick in at least part of the cost in exchange for a cut of tolls.

Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman Jim Pinkerton on Thursday said the agency was preparing a response to the CMAP report. Until then, INDOT is declining comment.

The CMAP analysis found building the Illiana Expressway would increase gross regional product by $425 million in 2040, as compared to the $2 billion figure expressway planners came up with.

It also points out adding new lanes to two connecting roads, as called for in the first phase of Illiana planners' study, would cost an additional $1.5 billion.

CMAP issued the following statement Thursday in response to an inquiry about the report: "CMAP is committed to this public process through which amendments to the GO TO 2040 comprehensive regional plan are studied carefully before the Board and MPO Policy Committee make the final determination, which is scheduled to happen in October."

CMAP is opening a public comment period on the proposed Illiana Expressway on Friday and plans to make a decision in October on whether to put the project in its long-term transportation plan, called GO TO 2040. If the road is not put in the plan, it cannot be built.

The Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission also hopes to put the Illiana Expressway to a vote for inclusion in its long-term transportation plan in October, said NIRPC Executive Director Tyson Warner. NIRPC has to first complete its own staff analysis and perform other tasks before that can be done. The agency also will conduct a public comment period.

Both CMAP and NIRPC are federally designated metropolitan planning organizations. As such, no regionally significant highway projects can be built in their respective jurisdictions without their approval. 

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