Statement by Illinois PIRG Director Abe Scarr on Today’s News that Indiana has Frozen Plans for the Iliana Expressway
“Today, Indiana publicly stated that they are putting the Illiana expressway project on hold until further notice. Just a year ago, the Illiana was being driven by Governor Quinn, but now lacks a champion.
“Is the Illiana becoming a zombie that simply won’t die even when both current Governors have frozen it?It continues to stagger forth without reason for living. Our leaders need to take responsibility for putting this boondoggle finally to rest.
“The letter from James Earl, Illiana project manager at the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) to residents who live near the proposed tollroad reveals INDOT will not move forward until Governor Rauner determines whether or not to waste $1.5 billion of taxpayer’s money on an expressway that no one seems to want anymore. For Governor Rauner to move forward with the Illiana, the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) would need to start to solicit private investors again to pay a significant portion of the construction costs. No private investors have yet to be named.
“We need to move forward. The first thing that needs to happen is that the Illiana needs to be removed from the approved project list for future transportation funding. Its current position atop that lists puts every other project under uncertainty. Illinois needs to be able to plan and prioritize for future infrastructure investments and the Illiana makes a mockery of that process so long as it stands first in line for future tax dollars.
Next, we need to examine how the Illiana boondoggle got as far as it did. Illinois needs to do more than heave a sigh of relief. We need to examine how this boondoggle could get to the top of the state’s declared list of funding priorities. We need to ask what reforms are needed to prevent such hijackings of the transportation investment process in the future.
Despite all the long-range planning and performance measures of CMAP’s acclaimed 2040 plan, the lure of ribbon cuttings for highway mega-projects still holds too much sway.
We’ve also seen too many times that projects lacking merit nonetheless gain favor because they are billed as public-private partnerships (PPPs). These projects too often get a free pass because their financing exists off-the books, even though they are still ultimately paid for by the public. We need to reform the process so that PPPs will only be approved if the project deserves to be a priority and if there are real benefits to financing it this way.
Illinois needs infrastructure for the future. We can’t afford zombie projects like the Illiana playing havoc with our transportation planning and investment process. The Illiana should be soundly put to death and steps need to be taken to protect against such abominations in the future.“