The Metropolitan Planning Council's condemnation of the Illiana Expressway misfires on a number of key points.
The MPC said the Illiana Expressway would divert funds needed for other major road projects, produce far fewer jobs than boosters claim and will not solve freight congestion.
"Really, the question we asked is for that $1 billion are we getting a good return?" MPTC Executive Vice President Peter Skosey said.
But that's comparing apples to pomegranates. The $1 billion to be spent on this project would come from private dollars, not tax money. So how is that diverting funds from other projects?
The plan is to build the Illiana Expressway between Interstate 65 and I-55 as a public-private partnership -- meaning a private company likely would build the road in exchange for the right to charge tolls on the road.
Anyone who drives on U.S. 30, the Borman Expressway and other east-west truck routes in Northwest Indiana and the south suburbs knows congestion relief is needed. No additional lanes can be added to the Borman Expressway, so the smart option is to build the southern expressway -- which has been talked about for decades -- as a reliever route.
The MPC said the expressway would send 7,000 Cook County residents and 5,000 Cook County jobs away, mostly to Northwest Indiana. Gee, do you think the crushing weight of taxes in Cook County might have something to do with that flight?
Critics of the Illiana, including MPC, have said the benefits of the new highway might not be as great as its boosters predict. But even MPC said it would provide congestion relief, add jobs and boost the economy. The quibble is with the extent of the benefits, not the existence of them.
The Illiana Expressway is needed. It has been more than half a century since a new expressway has been built in Northwest Indiana. Traffic has grown exponentially since then, and it will continue to grow. A new expressway is needed, and the Illiana fits the bill -- with private dollars footing the bill for its construction.
Pave the way for this private investment in the region's transportation infrastructure.