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Illiana Expressway takes a 'huge' step as third airport inches closer to reality

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The Illiana Expressway is inching closer to reality, as the Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Committee (MPO) voted 11-8 last week to include the project in its long-range transportation plan.

"It's huge, it's huge!" an excited Larry Walsh told the Southtown Star newspaper. It is "huge" because the Illiana Expressway becomes eligible for federal funding.

Walsh, who is also a member of the Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Committee (MPO), has been a strong supporter and advocate for the Illiana expressway. Walsh is also a strong supporter and advocate for proposed third airport.

The Illiana planning process is expected to be complete in early 2014.

The vote negates a vote earlier this month that had support from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, McHenry County Chairman Tina Hill and many other officials in Cook County. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency on Planning (CMAP) voted 10-4 "not" to place the Illiana Expressway on a list of significant projects for federal funding purposes.

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn called the approval "an innovative public-private partnership to build a much-needed, regional highway." Quinn called the Illiana a "priority in the GO TO 2040 Plan. The Illiana, along with the South Suburban Airport, are key parts of Governor Quinn's agenda to drive economic growth throughout the South Suburbs and across Illinois."

Not only is the project now "eligible for federal funding, but the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) can proceed to obtain bids from the private sector," said Quinn.

Quinn called the Illiana "a major victory for economic development and jobs in the Southland."

Quinn added that the South Suburban Airport will serve as the third major Chicago-area airport in the south suburbs and building a global transportation hub will "create more than 11,000 construction jobs and as many as 14,000 long-term."

Congresswoman Robin Kelly was also jubilant at the outcome. "I'd like to thank the MPO members for having the foresight to approve the Illiana Expressway project. Today's vote is a validation of what we in the Southland have been saying all along-that our region has tremendous growth potential and that the Illiana is vital to that growth."

Kelly added, "I applaud the board for putting facts above politics in supporting this project, which will create tens of thousands of much needed jobs in the Southland and promote the expansion of regional economic development throughout South Cook, Will, and Kankakee counties."

Kelly added "We stand united. It's not often that a group as diverse as this stands together. Will County is one of the fastest growing regions in Illinois and the Midwest, and that growth has been spurred, in part, by a booming intermodal industry."

Kelly pointed out that "Will County is home to some of the largest-and fastest growing-distributions centers in the nation-including those for Wal-Mart, Target, Macy's, Home Depot, and Certified Grocers. Given its unique proximity to all the nation's major railroads, and its abundance of open space, Will County's intermodal industry will continue to grow as global businesses continue to invest and expand in the region-creating more jobs for Illinois residents."

"The Illiana targets Will County's intermodal and logistics industries by providing a second major east-west corridor through Chicago's Southland," she said. "It will relieve congestion on overburdened county and secondary roads in Will County, and along I-80, one of nation's busiest highways. And someday it will serve as an access route for downstaters coming to the new South Suburban airport. I have no doubt that the Illiana will strengthen the Illinois economy for the next generation."

"The Southland has always been a team player when other regions wanted new roads. For decades, new expressways and tollroads were built crisscrossing the north, northwest and west suburbs-mostly paid for with tax dollars. We're willing to find our own financing for the Illiana. Now it's time for the team to show support for this crucial Southland project. It's finally our time to get new infrastructure."

The approval of the Illiana Expressway now advances the transportation project down the field and has buoyed supporters of the third airport.

The Illiana Expressway project is a 47-mile tollway within the Go to 2040 program, which outlines roughly $360 billion in land use and transportation spending between now and 2040. A portion of that amount, about $10 billion dollars is reserved for new projects, such as the Illiana Expressway.

The Illiana Expressway would link Interstate 55 near Wilmington to I-65 near Lowell, Ind., at an estimated cost of $1.3 billion. The plan is to establish a public-private partnership to build and operate the tollway, with its revenue paying off the debt.

***

Send John Presta an email and your story ideas or suggestions, johnpresta@att.net.

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