Discussing the NIRPC Staff Analysis of the Illiana Expressway

Frank Manzo IV is the Policy Director of the Illinois Economic Policy Institute (ILEPI). Visit ILEPI at www.illinoisepi.org or follow ILEPI on Twitter @illinoisEPI.

On November 27, the Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC) uploaded its completed staff analysis on the Illiana Corridor and its consistency with the organization’s 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan (CRP). The analysis reviewed all the areas where the Illiana Expressway positively or negatively impacts the quality of life for the residents of Northwest Indiana but did not offer a direct recommendation to the NIRPC Executive Board, which on December 12 will vote on whether the project should go forward.

The analysis identified 62 unique objectives of the CRP, and found that the project is consistent with 13 of those goals, inconsistent with 8, and has mixed, neutral, or uncertain impacts on 41 other goals. Below, we at ILEPI synthesize, discuss, and critique these findings.

The 13 Consistencies

  1. Congestion management process
  2. Integrate local, regional, and national transportation systems to facilitate movement of people and freight between modes
  3. Reduce congestion on major freight and passenger routes
  4. Improve the internal connectivity of the transportation network
  5. Use and expansion of transportation and other infrastructure advantages
  6. Enhance navigability through improved wayfinding and signage
  7. Utilize technology, including Intelligent Transportation Systems and other strategies, to improve transportation safety
  8. Partner to protect threatened natural remnants [in the urban core]
  9. Achieve national ambient air quality standards for all air pollutants, including carbon monoxide, ozone and particulates
  10. Reduce the disproportionate impact of industrial and transportation emissions on environmental justice populations
  11. Promote coordination of land use and corridor planning across jurisdictional boundaries
  12. Foster better communication, cooperation and coordination to better leverage resources
  13. Reduce emergency response times


Discussion: As ILEPI has previously noted, the Illiana Expressway will increase the efficiency of the growing trucking and intermodal economic cluster of the region, promote up to 2,259 construction jobs (9,036 job-years) including 571 in Indiana, create to 1,000 to 7,000 long-term jobs in Indiana, add $667 million to the Indiana economy during construction, and have no negative impact on air pollution for the region. ILEPI conducted a similar analysis for Illinois.

The 8 Inconsistencies

  1. Identify and prioritize land along existing rail lines and truck routes for freight-related development.
  2. Increase investment in and development of alternative shipping modes, like rail and maritime, to encourage mode shift for freight, and reduce truck volumes
  3. Encourage the concentration of development around existing infrastructure
  4. Preserve prime agricultural land and rural landscapes
  5. Achieve water quality standards and designated uses of our lakes and streams
  6. Preserve floodplain and wetlands
  7. Reduce air toxins, greenhouse gases and other harmful emissions
  8. Improve the aesthetics – noise, odor, discoloration – of air

Discussion: ILEPI agrees that the Illiana Expressway is indeed inconsistent with 6 of these CRP goals. However, two goals need to be addressed:

  • On the first inconsistency, the intermodal and freight economic development cluster already exists and is growing in the southern portions of both the NIRPC and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) jurisdictions. It makes smart business sense to promote the scale economies created by the industry by investing in development around the cluster. [Note: What is an economic cluster? Click here.] Additionally, the expressway will relieve trucking congestion by 20 to 35 percent on all other east-west roads (I-80/I-94, US-30, US-231, and SR-2). Thus, while the project does not directly prioritize land along an existing route for freight-related development (say, by adding a new lane to the Borman Expressway), indirectly this project achieves this aim. The impact on this goal should have been deemed Neutral or Mixed.
  • On the eighth inconsistency, ILEPI contends that the impact should not have been deemed Inconsistent. The NIRPC analysis claims that “while both visual impacts and noise impacts are required to be mitigated in project planning and design, it seems unlikely that the Illiana project meets the CRP objective to actually improve ascetics within its corridor. Nor is the project suggested to remove aesthetic impacts from other areas within Northwest Indiana.” Besides the obvious fact that we are at the moment uncertain about what forms the mitigation will take (i.e., guidelines for signs, ramps, lighting, etc.), the expressway will reduce trucking noise on existing corridors. To say that the project is “Inconsistent” with the goal of improving the aesthetics of the region suggests that the project will actually degrade the aesthetics, especially with the option to say that project will have no impact on the goal. In fact, NIRPC seems to submit that the Expressway will not remove aesthetic impacts. Therefore, the impact on this goal should have been deemed Neutral or Mixed.

NIRPC’s analysis proclaims that the Illiana Expressway will have a Neutral, Mixed, or Uncertain impact on 41 other unique objectives of the CRP.

Discussion: On these goals, the project is viewed to have no impact, both a positive and a negative impact, or an unknown impact on the goals of the CRP. At least 23 of these goals (56.1%) relate to public and non-motorized transportation, revitalization of brownfields, affordable housing, and improving access to (and the quality of) parks, green space, the Lake Michigan shoreline, and other aesthetics. ILEPI agrees with the analysis that these goals are outside the purview of the Illiana Expressway, which has no positive or negative overall impact on achieving them.

Of the remaining objectives, we address a few below where the Illiana Expressway’s impact should instead have been deemed to be Consistent with the CRP.

1-3. “Enhance connectivity between housing, jobs, services, and educational facilities” (Neutral), “Encourage development along infrastructure” (Uncertain), and “Improve access to jobs” (Mixed).

Discussion: The Illiana Expressway will create up to 7,000 new jobs in Indiana and up to 18,000 new jobs in Illinois in the long-term. About 20,000 jobs will become newly accessible to Illinois and Indiana workers in 30 minutes or less due to the expressway. Finally, the expressway will improve access to Governor’s State University in Illinois, a relatively inexpensive institution of higher learning for both Illinois and Indiana residents.

4. “Improve the safety of non-motorized transportation through education, enforcement, engineering, design and construction” (Uncertain)

Discussion: According to NIRPC’s “Congestion Management Process, Results and Analysis,” the Illiana Expressway will reduce trucking traffic by 28% and total traffic by 2% on non-expressway east-west routes. Accordingly, the reduction in traffic on non-expressways will improve the safety of bikers and pedestrians in the region. It should be noted that ILEPI also endorses the NIRPC recommendation to build new bridge construction over roadways for pedestrians and bikers as well as a parallel multi-use trail facility along the length of the corridor to promote non-motorized transportation.

5. “To use our transportation network as efficiently as possible, by developing intermodal and multi-modal freight facilities” (Mixed)

Discussion: The Illiana Expressway directly supports the intermodal and multi-modal freight facilities in the region. NIRPC’s concern over this goal is that the intermodal benefits are reaped on the Illinois side in Will County. But the intermodal industry is not a zero-sum game. If Will County transportation and logistics firms expand, they employ more Indiana residents. If the intermodal economic cluster expands along the new route as expected, some firms will find it profitable to locate in Indiana (where both taxes and labor costs are generally lower). The expressway helps to maximize the efficiency and utility of each mode of transportation.

6. “Foster the development of local food systems and a local food economy” (Mixed)

Discussion: The Illiana Expressway is anticipated to displace 7 farmsteads according to NIRPC and 22 total in both states according to the Illinois Department of Transportation. But the expressway will provide improved access to highways and markets such as Chicago, the whole of Illinois, and even (via air and rail) to the rest of the country. The expressway will increase the revenues and efficiency of local farmers.

Concluding Discussion: Overall, ILEPI finds that 23 of the unique goals in NIRPC’s plan (37.1%) are outside the purview of the Illiana Expressway. Of the remaining 39 objectives, 19 (30.6%) should have been deemed Consistent with the Illiana Expressway compared to just 6 (9.7%) that should have been deemed Inconsistent. The Illiana Expressway should be viewed as having no negative overall impact or an unknown impact to be determined by private sector partners on the remaining 14 objectives (22.6%).

The Illiana Expressway will directly connect 3 major interstates and up to 6 state highways, spur the creation of thousands of high-road jobs, grow the regional (Illinois and Indiana) economy by $3.87 billion, connect workers to jobs, and improve the flow of commerce to enhance the region’s global competitiveness. The NIRPC Board should follow CMAP’s lead and approve the amendment to add the Illiana Expressway to its Comprehensive Regional Plan so that the private sector can bid on the project and ultimately decide that the corridor is a worthwhile project. The Illiana Expressway should be constructed.

For more information:

ILEPI Policy Brief: The Benefits of the Illiana Expressway: An Opportunity for Indiana (Indiana-Specific PDF)

ILEPI Policy Brief: In Defense of the Illiana Expressway: Benefits to Workers, Businesses, and Families (Illinois-specific PDF)

ILEPI Blog: Unpublished Comment to NIRPC on Illiana

ILEPI Blog: Debunking 10 Myths About the Proposed Illiana Expressway

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