Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Indiana did what Illinois couldn't get done


To Indiana legislators, building the Illiana Expressway is a jobs-creator. It would do that on the Illinois side and so much more.

Instead of it merely connecting Interstate 57 and I-65, as proposed, the legislation refers to the extention of the Illiana west to I-55 near Joliet.

The Indiana legislation is a dream come true for Illinois officials who have long envisioned building a southern leg to I-355, passing by the proposed Peotone airport which would then connect it to intermodal traffic at Elwood and Joliet.


Illiana Expressway was once the South Suburban Expressway


The Illiana has been talked about in Illinois for as long as the proposed Peotone-area airport – since around 1968.

Indiana became involved two years ago when Gov. Mitch Daniels decided to fast-track an ambitious road-building plan. Daniels proposed the Illiana run north and east into Lake and Porter counties. He withdrew the extension plan, however, because of  public opposition.

Daniels' predecessors – the late Gov. Frank O'Bannon and former Gov. Evan Bayh – opposed the Illiana Expressway. They recognized the new roadway as a way to bolster Illinois' efforts to gain support for a new South Suburban Airport, (SSA) near Peotone, which was in a direct competition with the existing Gary/Chicago Regional Airport.

The Illiana Expressway, at one time was part of the airport layout plan. The plan included the location of the northernmost connector road to the facility. Since the airport has been downsized, the expressway is no longer part of the plan, however, its association remains.


Illiana Expressway, Peotone airport; both mired in politics


Just a few months ago Gov. Pat Quinn, who received an endorsement in his bid for re-election by organized labor, voiced strong support for the Illiana. He even referred to it as his future "legacy."
Kirk Dillard, a Hinsdale Republican who is still fighting to become the Republican nominee to challenge Quinn for Governor, also endorsed the project at a recent gathering at the operating engineers' local headquarters in Wilmington.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson, D-Crete has weighed in with strong support of the plan. Will County officials support it too.

Locally, the battle for governance over the airport, which has yet to receive FAA approval, between Chicago's south suburbs and Will County, is well-documented.

But dreams to build the Illiana is not without sticking points. Quinn's potential legacy may not enjoy smooth sailing. His most recent endorsement has come from U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., who initially was critical of Quinn's interest in the Illiana.

Jackson favors the airport over the roadway. On his congressional website he noted that progress in planning for the road lags far behind what has already been accomplished with the airport.

"There will be no groundbreaking for the Illiana Expressway under a Quinn administration," Jackson said, "no matter how many terms he wins."