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Illiana Expressway posing conflicts

Potential roadblocks are surfacing to the proposed Illiana Expressway that would connect Interstates 55 and 65 in Illinois and Indiana.

Two months ago, Illinois Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider was in Joliet to announce an aggressive schedule for the $1.2 billion highway, which likely would be a tollway. She predicted a 2015 ground-breaking date after the completion of an environmental impact study that's now under way.

But then three environmental groups — Openlands, the Midewin Heritage Association and the Sierra Club — filed a federal lawsuit in Chicago on July 10 to try to block the project. And on July 30, a staff analysis by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning criticized the Illiana plan, including its estimated cost and economic benefits.

The analysis, public comments and a staff recommendation will all be forwarded to the CMAP board and the Metropolitan Planning Organization board for review and votes in October. Federal regulations require the two boards to agree to amend their Go to 2040 long-term transportation plan to include the Illiana or environmental study cannot continue and the road won't be built.

The final CMAP staff recommendation hasn't been made, but the current analysis raises many issues with the 47-mile highway's planning by the Illinois Department of transportation.

CMAP staffers view IDOT's cost estimates as low. For instance, the study says the Illiana would cost $8.1 million per lane mile in 2020 dollars. But that estimate is much lower than similar projects, including the Interstate 355 extension through Will County that opened in 2007 and cost $18.9 million per lane mile.

94.1 FM, WGFA