EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD: Chicago protectionism jeopardizes development

2013-10-20T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD: Chicago protectionism jeopardizes developmentBy Mike Scholefield nwitimes.com
October 20, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Recent events concern me as a threat to sustaining a meaningful dialogue on 21st century development trends and the need for the associated infrastructure and systems in our region.

This brings me to the complexities of what is known as 3P — Public-Private-Partnership — as a viable option in addressing major capital improvements in and around the Calumet Region.

There are many different P3 structures, and the degree to which the private sector assumes responsibility — including financial risk — differs from one application to another. Additionally, different types of P3s lend themselves to developing new facilities and others to operating or expanding existing assets.

The importance and timeliness of this funding option should be obvious given the economic climate the world, nation and region find themselves in. Public funding as we have known it has become less viable because traditional funding sources simply are not providing the funds to address massive construction projects.

In Northeast Illinois/Northwest Indiana, these projects include an east-west expressway bypass, expanded airport facilities, revitalized ports and congestion-relieving rail improvements.

So when a project (Illiana) presents itself with a promise of economic expansion through improved efficiencies in freight movement and associated investment opportunities, and does so through the identification of funding via a linking of private and public financing, the logical next step would be to test the P3 waters to see who is interested, what kind of financing is being proposed and the long-term viability of the proposal(s).

This is not, apparently, a perspective shared in the greater Chicago metropolitan area. Market forces, so it seems, are to be applied selectively.

What we have here, therefore, is unconditional rejection of a project by a regional planning staff and a council comprised primarily of Chicago-based corporations before the investigatory phase of the P3 process is allowed to move forward. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning staff recommendation was to exclude the necessary placement of the Illiana into the region's long-range (2040) plan.

The Metropolitan Planning Council, a cross-section of companies and organizations top-heavy in Chicago companies went on record opposing the Illiana, hands down.

Regardless of your position — build/nobuild — the unwillingness to even allow the market — private investors and builders — to consider the fate of the Illiana is not only short-sighted but bordering on hypocritical.

When Midway Airport — which, the last time I flew out of there appeared healthy — became a candidate for private purchase, concensus abounded. When the Illinois International Port District had a private suitor, it was heralded as the optimum solution. And when CREATE, the multi-railroad 3P option hit the streets, a collective "attaboy" was heard regionwide.

These three are almost exclusively within Chicago city limits.

This appears to be a subtle variation on protectionism.

If a major improvement that promises not only to increase efficiencies in services, expand investment opportunities, reduce congestion and increase safety benefitting an area far beyond the corridor in which it is to be constructed, including Chicago, warrants implementing a policy of protectionism, then little has changed between the past century and the present one.

Michael Scholefield is chairman of the Chicago Southland Economic Development Corp. The opinions are the writer's.

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