ROSEMONT, Ill. | Indiana Gov. Mike Pence on Monday erased any doubt as to where he stands on the proposed Illiana Expressway when he spoke in front of hundreds of investment bankers at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center.
"Today all roads lead to the Illiana," he said. "We look forward to your input and counsel. We pledge our partnership for progress with our neighbors to the west. It's time to get this work moving. Let's get the Illiana done for all our people and for the United States of America."
Pence's rousing endorsement was anxiously awaited, as not everyone was clear if the first-term governor shared the enthusiasm of his predecessor, Gov. Mitch Daniels, for the long-talked about expressway.
It would run 46.8 miles from Interstate 65 just outside of Lowell in Indiana to Interstate 55 near Wilmington in Illinois.
During a brief but energetic talk in a darkened Stephens Center ballroom, Pence extolled the benefits of the road, including the estimated 9,000 construction jobs that would be immediately created and the 25,000 additional long-term jobs forecast if the expressway is built.
The road is not popular with people living where a green line 2,000 feet wide has already been traced on maps. But any of them thinking Pence might change direction on the project received their answer Monday.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, speaking just before Pence, was just as energetic in his endorsement of the proposed toll road. Both governors hope investors will pay the estimated $1.3 billion construction cost in exchange for a piece of, or all of, the tolls that will be collected once it opens to traffic.
"We understand what the future of our economy is all about," Quinn said. "It's about logistics. It's about distribution. It's all about the heartland and Indiana and Illinois are the heart of the heartland."
Quinn emphasized the new tolled expressway is essential to maintaining the region's position as the nation's No. 1 intermodal land port.
More than 600 people were registered for the event, according to organizers. An hour after the governors spoke, staff from the Indiana Department of Transportation and the Illinois Department of Transportation started face-to-face meetings with 15 investment consortiums. All had responded to the agencies' recent request for broad proposals on the Illiana Expressway.
Northwest Indiana Forum CEO Mark Maassel was at the Stephens Center early in the morning, saying he was interested to hear Gov. Mike Pence's take on the planned expressway. He noted the enthusiasm of former Gov. Mitch Daniels for the project, which culminated in his signing a bi-state agreement on the Illiana Expressway three years ago with Quinn at Lansing Municipal Airport.
"Gov. Pence is obviously new as governor, so I am curious as to what both governors' thoughts are on this," Maassel said a couple of hours before the two state chief executives spoke.
After the governors spoke, other state officials took to the ballroom stage and dug into the details of the project, telling investors what the two states want out of the deal.
Indiana Public Finance Director Kendra York said the states are looking at two options for financing. One would be a deal similar to that financing the East End Crossing bridge over the Ohio River. In that deal, milestone payments and subsequent periodic payments, called availability payments, will be made by the state to the investors who are paying the bills for the bridge's construction.
The state wants to sign a deal of 50 years or more for the Illiana Expressway if it mimics the East End Crossing deal, York said.
The other financing structure under consideration is more similar to that struck with investors in 2006 for the long-term lease of the Indiana Toll Road. There, the company leasing the road collects and gets to keep all tolls.
In the case of the Illiana Expressway, unlike with the Toll Road, there would be no windfall upfront payment to the states. Instead, the upfront money would pay for the Illiana Expressway's construction. If that option is chosen, the states want a deal of 35 years or more, York said.
State officials anticipate a deal like either of those above for the Illiana Expressway could be closed by the end of 2014, with construction beginning not long after.