(MCT) — Two additional routes for the proposed Illiana Expressway are being considered after objections were raised to the Illinois-Indiana route that was unveiled this year, officials said.
One of the new options is getting strong support from state legislators and local officials in southern Cook County. They think the originally proposed route, which would go through rural southern Will County, is too far south from established residential and commercial areas, including numerous intermodal freight centers.
That proposed route runs 47 miles, connecting Interstate 55 north of Wilmington with Interstate 65 north of Lowell, Ind.
The alternative backed by south Cook leaders extends through central Will County. It would run from I-55 near Channahon, cut south at Illinois Highway 394, and also reach I-65 north of Lowell. The route would likely affect more property owners because it is longer than the original route and runs through more developed areas.
The other alternative duplicates the original route through most of Illinois but dips southeast near the Indiana border and ends at I-65 south of Lowell.
The two alternatives were added in response to public hearings that drew comments from residents, property owners, businesses, municipalities and public officials, said Steve Schilke, project manager for the Illinois Department of Transportation.
"This is an ongoing process, and we will continue to refine these corridors to minimize impacts as much as possible," Schilke said.
Public hearings on the new alternatives will be held July 31 and Aug. 1, IDOT said. Details will soon be available on the Illiana website, illianacorridor.org, where an interactive map of the proposed routes and project documents are posted.
Ideas for the Illiana have been kicking around for decades. Gov. Pat Quinn and his Indiana counterpart, Mitch Daniels, signed a bistate agreement two years ago calling for development of the project. The Illiana would alleviate congestion on interstates and local roads, while creating jobs and spurring economic development, the governors said.
Since little or no state or federal money for construction is available, the governors proposed that the Illiana be built as a tollway through a public-private partnership. Estimates have put the cost of building the Illinois portion alone at nearly $3 billion.
Illinois has committed $9 million to study the project, and planners from both states and consultants are about halfway through the first phase, or tier. Planners are expected make a decision on the proposed route this fall.
In addition to the hearings, Illinois and Indiana transportation officials are preparing a draft environmental impact statement, which is expected to be completed in mid-July, Schilke said.
In February, planners had selected a preferred corridor from a list of eight. That route, known officially as B3, runs generally parallel to the Will-Kankakee county line.
Although planners had used hundreds of criteria to settle on the B3 route, Schilke said public feedback prompted officials to also consider the other two routes.
Planners weighed the impact on residential areas in Will County and Lake County, Ind., and heard recommendations that the Illiana be located farther north, he said.
The northernmost of the three alternatives has the strong support of the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association, which represents 42 municipalities in Cook and Will counties, Executive Director Ed Paesel said.
"We believe (the alternative) is closer to the current job and residential centers where we think it would bring more economic development," Paesel said.
That route would also be closer to a dozen or more existing trucking terminals and freight-transfer centers in Joliet, Harvey, Dolton, Chicago Heights and other suburbs, Paesel said.
In addition to carrying heavy truck traffic, the Illiana should more directly benefit the existing residential population, and alleviate congestion on local roads, Paesel said.
Paesel said his organization acknowledges that the northernmost route would affect more homes and businesses than the other alternatives, which run through largely rural areas.
"There's no doubt there would be more displacements," Paesel said. "But we can't afford as a region to take the path of least resistance and not look at the long-term benefits."