Debunking 10 Myths about the Proposed Illiana Expressway

In the past few weeks, the proposed Illiana Expressway has been subject to much criticism. Most of this criticism, however, has relied more on rhetoric and misinformation than actual fact. Below, 10 myths about the Illiana Expressway are debunked.

Myth #1: The Illiana Expressway will serve little to no purpose.

Truth: The Illiana Expressway is a proposed 47-mile toll road that would link I-55 in Will County, Illinois to I-65 in Lake County, Indiana. The corridor is intended to primarily benefit the heavy-trucking industry in the short run, servicing the growing intermodal freight system in south Chicagoland. Diverting trucking traffic from I-80, I-90, and Route 30, however, relieves congestion and benefits commuters and families. One southern Chicagoland government official told me that “to those of us who live with the truck traffic congestion on local roads with the related increased costs of maintenance and public safety issues, the need is far more obvious” than to those outside of southern Chicagoland.

Additionally, the expressway will have long-term transportation benefits, as the population of Will County is expected to grow by 548,000 (CMAP) to 695,000 (IDOT) people by 2040. The Illiana Expressway is a forward-thinking project that will be vital to these future families, businesses, and visitors. Finally, the likely construction of the South Suburban Airport (often called Lincoln National Airport), which also is projected by CMAP to generate 7,737 direct jobs and 42,739 additional jobs, only raises the need for the Illiana project.

Myth #2: The Illiana Expressway will unnecessarily burden taxpayers.

Truth: The Illiana Expressway can be constructed in addition to, rather than in place of, other Chicagoland projects. The toll road will be financed and operated in a public-private partnership, which saves money for the taxpayer and shifts the costs onto those who use the new highway. IDOT has estimated that the project will generate sufficient toll revenue to repay the cost of the project and its operation and maintenance, indicating that the taxpayer burden will be minimal. CMAP, on the other hand, estimates a $440 million to $1.1 billion cost to the public associated with the project. It is important to note that, since the total costs of the project are estimate at more than $500 million, the corridor will also receive federal funding from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

Myth #3: The costs of the Illiana Expressway will be greater than the benefits.

Truth: Even if the project will cost $400 million to $1.1 billion to the public (see previous myth), the benefits far outweigh the costs of construction. In the short-run, ILEPI projects that the expressway will add $1.50 billion to the Chicagoland economy and generate $168.8 million in total state and local tax revenues from increased income, sales, property, and business taxes. In the long-term, the projected impact on GDP is $3.9 billion.

While CMAP estimated a much smaller $425 million impact on GDP, the planning agency’s estimates are clearly low:

  • CMAP does not include many workers (including  interns, part-time student workers, farm workers, private home workers, and those with secondary jobs) in its economic impacts, although these workers have significant impacts on GDP,
  • CMAP does not factor in the benefits of the probable South Suburban Airport,
  • CMAP’s estimates are based on very recent economic trends which, due to the economic downturn, churn out low economic returns. Given that the economy of the next 30-40 years is not expected to underperform like the economy from 2007 to 2012, CMAP’s estimates are quite unreasonable.

One other consideration, which ILEPI did not quantify, regards the farming industry. While IDOT estimats that the project will displace 22 residences, the project will benefit local farmers by increasing land values and providing improved access to highways and markets for their products.

Myth #4: IDOT has significantly underestimated the per-lane mile cost of constructing the Illiana.

Truth: In 2018 dollars, IDOT predicts that the project will cost $6.6 million per-lane mile, $950 million total to Illinois. CMAP’s cost estimates, in 2020 dollars, are $8.1 million per-lane mile and about $1.17 billion total. When converting CMAP’s estimates to 2018 dollars for comparability, the estimated construction cost to Illinois is $1.06 billion, or just 11.4 percent higher. Given the substantial benefits of the corridor and the private-sector willingness to invest in the project to put Illinois residents back to work, this difference is actually quite small.

Myth #5: The Illiana Expressway will create little to no jobs.

Truth: ILEPI conservatively estimates that the project will employ 1,688 construction workers (6,752 job-years) and stimulate 997 additional jobs in the region (3,988 job-years) by 2018, and lower the state’s high unemployment rate by 0.4 percent. The retail industry, architectural and engineering services industry, food and beverage industry, and medical industry are expected to benefit most from construction. Additionally, in the long term, the project will create between 3,800 and 18,000 jobs. It should be noted that the unemployment rate is currently 9.2 percent for Illinois and is 9.8 percent for Will County. Unemployment rates are also 16.8 percent for the construction industry, 8.7 percent for the retail industry, and 14.2 percent for the food services industry. The Illiana Expressway would provide jobs to out-of-work Illinois residents and would provide much-needed stimulus to the Illinois economy.

Myth #6: The Illiana Expressway will shift jobs from Illinois to Indiana.

Truth: CMAP estimates that the project will add 3,800 jobs to Chicagoland, including 2,900 in Will County. But CMAP’s estimates do not factor in the job impacts to Illinois counties outside of Chicagoland, including Kankakee County and Grundy County. While employment may shift slightly from northern Chicagoland to southern Chicagoland due to Illiana, jobs are still created in the regional economy and in the State of Illinois as a whole.

Myth #7: The Illiana Expressway will shift jobs from Indiana to Illinois.

Truth: Some in Indiana have made the counterclaim that the Illiana Expressway is meant to benefit only Illinois residents and businesses. However, IDOT projects employment gains in both Illinois and Indiana. Of all jobs gains, IDOT predicts that 75 percent will occur in Illinois and 25 percent in Indiana. Both states stand to benefit from the project.

Myth #8: The Illiana Expressway is opposed by a 5-to-1 margin.

Truth: CMAP’s public comments regarding the Illiana project yielded 169 comments (including ILEPI’s) in support of the project and 796 comments in opposition to the project. Those opposing the Illiana were primarily environmental and civic organizations. Just 2 businesses weighed in opposing the project; no labor organizations or universities came out in opposition. On the other hand, 27 private businesses including 2 Chambers of Commerce, 19 labor organizations, and 2 universities signed on in support of the project. If the member organizations of the Chambers of Commerce, the members of labor unions (including the statewide AFL-CIO), and students of supporting universities are counted, it is support for the project is much higher than opponents are making it out to be.

Myth #9: The Illiana Expressway will have a net negative environmental impact.

Truth: As noted above, many environmental groups have expressed strong opposition against the Illiana project. Environmental impacts are indeed important, and their costs must be included in comparison to the substantial benefits of the Illiana project. But it appears that environmental groups may be jumping the gun a bit without full information: IDOT will complete its final Environmental Impact Study in March of 2014. Initial estimates suggest that the selected route has the least environmental impact of all proposed routes and that the reductions in annual miles spent in congested traffic and in hours traveled per year by all automobiles on all roads may lower automobile pollution in Chicagoland. Indeed, IDOT has not predicted any additional carbon dioxide emissions should the corridor be built. Many environmental concerns should thus be alleviated.

Myth #10: Chicagoland does not need the Illiana Expressway.

Truth: In the short-run (2015-2018), the Illiana Expressway will directly employ about 1,700 construction workers, stimulate the employment of about 1,000 Illinois residents in the region, add $1.5 billion to the Chicagoland economy, generate almost $170 million in total state and local tax revenues, and reduce travel, time, miles, and congestion. In the long-run, the project will spur 3,800 to 18,000 additional jobs, spur economic development, connect labor to employment opportunities, link students to higher education, lower automobile pollution, accommodate the likely South Suburban Airport, and support the region’s growing population.

The Illiana Expressway puts Illinois residents back to work in high-road jobs with good pay, promotes economic development, and supports future population growth in the region. The long-lasting benefits of the Illiana Expressway greatly outweigh its initial costs. For more information, please see ILEPI’s August 30 report, In Defense of the Illiana Expressway: Benefits to Workers, Businesses, and Families (PDF).

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