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CHICAGO | A key committee at Chicago's Metropolitan Agency for Planning on Thursday gave the Illiana Expressway an important bump forward as controversy over the project continues to build.

The agency's policy committee voted 12 to 6 to renew the agency's GO TO 2040 plan, which includes the Illiana Expressway as a major project.

The vote should allow the Illinois Department of Transportation to move ahead with seeking private investors for the project.

Before the vote, IDOT chief Erica Borggren assured members her agency will pay attention to the project's financials as it seeks private investment to help build the road. She also said the Federal Highway Administration has made it clear CMAP's policy committee has the definitive say on renewing the long-term plan.

Following 45 minutes of public comment, Borggren said the Illiana Expressway's role in relieving congestion and other arguments in favor of building the road remain convincing.

"The only thing different from a year ago is that there is a sense of déjà vu, for anyone that was here," she said referring to last year's committee vote giving the Illiana Expressway a green light.

Committee member and former Village of Buffalo Grove President Elliott Hartstein delivered the most impassioned argument against the toll road.

He was particularly critical of the developing public-private partnership deal that will be used to build the expressway, pointing out one study found a public subsidy of up to $1 billion will be needed.

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"In this situation, we have a case where the deck is stacked," he said. "And it's stacked in favor of the private partner."

The Illiana Expressway would run 50 miles from Interstate 65 near Lowell to Interstate 55 near Wilmington, Ill. It has an estimated $1.5 billion price tag.

The CMAP policy committee vote came just after a motion to kick the Illiana Expressway out of the GO TO 2040 plan failed on a vote of 8 in favor and 10 against. The meeting was held in the CMAP conference room on the eighth floor of the Willis Tower.

The policy committee votes came a day after the CMAP full board voted to kick the Illiana Expressway out of its long- range GO TO 2040 plan. However, the 10 to 4 vote in favor of that action fell short of the 12-vote supermajority needed to make the act official.

And right after, the CMAP full board failed to renew its GO TO 2040 plan, which was amended last year to include the Illiana Expressway. Federal regulations require CMAP to renew its long-range plan every four years. GO TO 2040 was first passed in 2010.

That second vote Wednesday leaves the fate of the expressway uncertain in some people's minds. Coalitions of environmental groups have filed lawsuits against the expressway project. One of those contends the CMAP full board, and not the policy committee, is the agency's ultimate decision maker under state law.

"You have to follow the law," said Stacy Meyers, policy coordinator for the conservation group Open Lands, which is one of the environmental groups suing. "If they don't like the law, they can go other places for redress."

The Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission is starting a similar process, with a final vote on updating its 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan tentatively scheduled for June. NIRPC in December amended its 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan to include the Illiana Expressway.

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