Sen. Durbin says feds must act for Illiana, airport

2014-01-24T20:40:00Z 2014-01-24T23:50:05Z Sen. Durbin says feds must act for Illiana, airportBy Keith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com

SAUK VILLAGE | U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., on Friday told about 200 community and business leaders getting a new federal transportation bill passed is essential to major infrastructure projects such as the Illiana Expressway and south suburban airport.

"There are so many projects and so much infrastructure that need to be built in this country," Durbin told his audience at a quarterly forum put on by the Chicago Southland Economic Development Corp. at the Sauk Village Municipal Center.

The current federal transportation bill known as MAP-21, which funded highway and other construction with $105 billion per year, expires in September. When President Obama signed it in 2012, it was the first time in three years Congress had managed to pass a full-fledged transportation bill.

Durbin and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., were asked later Friday during a news conference at the Pullman state historic site in Chicago about what the Thursday traffic pileup near Michigan City said about congestion and access to the Chicago-area via I 80/94.

“I think it shows exactly why we should build the Illiana Expressway to help ease congestion,” Kirk said.

Durbin said the issue is important because it relates to access to the Chicago area, which has an impact on the metro area’s economy and employment.

“Traffic is tied in to jobs,” Durbin said. “We want to improve the traffic flow because that will make it possible to create more jobs, which benefits the entire area."

In comments after the Sauk Village forum, Durbin said the Illiana Expressway project is vital to ensure that the Chicago Southland's infrastructure finally catches up to all the new development, including the CenterPoint Intermodal Center at Joliet.

"I am going to follow this closely," Durbin said of the proposed 47-mile expressway project. "I can see it. I have seen the truck traffic. I know we need to make sure CenterPoint is a success."

CenterPoint Properties 3,600 acre CenterPoint Intermodal Center in Joliet serves the BSNF railway's logistics park two miles to the south. Companies with buildings and operations at the center include Wal-Mart Stores Inc., DSC Logistics, Georgia Pacific, Potlatch, Sanyo Logistics, Maersk, and others.

The Illiana Expressway would run 47 miles from Interstate 65 just northeast of Lowell to Interstate 55, near Wilmington, Ill. It has a projected cost of $1.3 billion. It will be operated as a toll road.

U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., also said getting a new transportation bill passed is critically important.

"This transportation bill is important period," Kelly said at the Sauk Village event. "It's critical not just for all the infrastructure needs in Illinois, but for all the infrastructure in the whole country."

In the past, federal transportation bills funded highways and other improvements for a period of five years. That system broke down in 2009, when Congress merely passed extensions of the previous bill.

Times correspondent Gregory Tejeda contributed to this report.

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