A Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning committee voted 10-7 on Friday to recommend including the Illiana Expressway in its transportation plan, a key step in moving the project forward.
The vote could be a harbinger of others to come in the next two weeks at the Willis Tower meeting rooms of the agency, with CMAP's approval critical to winning federal approval for the toll road.
Those votes will culminate in one taken by CMAP's Metropolitan Planning Organization on Oct. 17. That organization must vote to include the Illiana Expressway in the agency's Go To 2040 plan or the 47-mile expressway is a no-go in Illinois.
The Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, an organization similar to CMAP, will take votes on including the Illiana Expressway in its own 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan in December.
Friday's yes vote by CMAP's transportation committee came despite a recommendation from the agency's own staff not to include the Illiana Expressway in the Go To 2040 plan.
The Illiana Expressway would run from Interstate 65 just northeast of Lowell to Interstate 55 near Wilmington, Ill.
Lynwood Mayor Eugene Williams, who serves as an alternate on the transportation committee, said before Friday's meeting his community supports the Illiana Expressway.
“Bringing more choices and opportunity to other parts of the state will not hurt Chicago,” Williams said.
But that wasn't everyone's opinion.
A CMAP report highly critical of the Illiana Expressway was summarized by CMAP Deputy Chief of Staff Matt Maloney before the agency's transportation committee began discussion.
One of the CMAP staff's arguments against the road is, even with private investment, there will be a funding gap of anywhere from $440 million to $1.1 billion that will have to be paid for by the states, Maloney said.
The report also projects the road would only marginally improve regional mobility and largely bypass established communities, Maloney said.
“If Go To 2040 provides a blueprint for our future, then the Illiana is out of step with our plan,” he said.
The Illinois Department of Transportation countered those arguments in a short presentation by Pete Harmet, IDOT's District 1 bureau chief of programming.
The Illiana Expressway project would pay for itself over 35 years with tolls collected there according to IDOT's projections, Harmet said. It would also be one of the largest contributors to gross regional product of any major project currently on the shelf or underway in Illinois, Harmet said.
“It seems like CMAP staff has moved the goalposts back on us,” Harmet said. “And sometimes they've moved them from side to side.”
The Illiana Expressway has already been designated a project of both regional and national significance, said John Greuling, CEO of the Will County Center for Economic Development.
“It's interesting this morning that I have not heard any mention of our sister state,” Greuling said. “And I'm disappointed by that for what is supposed to be a regional project.”
Committee member Jason Osborn, representing McHenry County, rejected the argument that determining whether the Illiana Expressway is viable will be worked out by the public-private partnership process.
"I did not think it was this body's job to just turn it over to the private sector and say, 'You tell us what to do,'" he said.