Illinois, Indiana join forces for ‘Illiana’

Both states have now passed legislation allowing the proposed toll road PPP to move forward and Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn is said to be thinking of signing Illinois’ bill into law at a ceremony on 9 June. The Illinois bill includes strong support from labour, including the Chicago Federation of Labor.

The Illinois legislature has passed a bill allowing the state to pursue a public-private partnership to develop a toll road linking the southern Chicago suburbs with northwest Indiana.

The approval by Illinois’ two legislative chambers means that the so-called “Illiana” interstate expressway now has the approval of both states it would cross through.

Moreover, both states’ legislatures agreed that the project should proceed as a public-private partnership (PPP), meaning that private investors could put money toward building the road in exchange for a right to collect tolls.

The Indiana legislature passed a bill authorising the Illiana PPP in February. In March, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels signed the bill into law.

Illinois Governor Patrick
Quinn: could sign Illiana
as early as June

A spokesperson for Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn said: “Governor Quinn has previously highlighted the importance of the jobs created by the Illiana Expressway and he plans to review the legislation along with his staff after his office receives it.”

Dennis Gannon, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, which lobbied for the past year to get the bill passed, is confident Governor Quinn will sign the bill.

“I talked to our Governor yesterday and he is going to sign this bill June ninth,” Gannon said.

The project is also significant for having the support of labour interests like the Chicago Federation of Labor. In the past, the Federation has been critical of some of the private-sector deals struck by Chicago's Mayor Daley, such as the $1.83 billion lease of the Chicago Skyway toll bridge in 2004, because it resulted in reductions in city highway workers. When Chicago attempted to do a similar lease for its Midway Airport, the Federation sought to include worker protection guarantees in the deal.

If you take a look at our unemployment numbers, we need to be putting our members back to work

Dennis Gannon

The Illiana Expressway, is different, Gannon said, because it involves the creation of a new, much-needed road and can create more jobs than a concession for an existing asset.

“If you take a look at our unemployment numbers, we need to be putting our members back to work,” Gannon said, noting that some of the trade unions currently have unemployment in the 35 percent to 40 percent range.

“If we were to wait until the financial resources were put together by both of these states, we might be waiting a long time. And so we believe a PPP is the only way it will happen,” he added. And if it happens, “hopefully, pension plans that we participate in are going to benefit from the revenue stream that’s created when it’s over with,” Gannon said, pointing to pension manager ULLICO as one source of such participation.

We take our cues from the people in the state

Raymond LaHood

Illinois' local chapter of the International Union of Operating Engineers also supported the project and issued a statement praising the legislature’s approval of the Illiana bill.

“This road and the employment that it will create are much needed by the residents of Illinois,” James Sweeney, the president of the local chapter of the Operating Engineers’ union, said in a statement.

And US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, speaking before the Operating Engineers’ union in Illinois at the end of March, indicated the project could be given priority in the next authorisation bill.

“We take our cues from the people in the state,” LaHood was quoted as saying in The Times of Northwest Indiana. “And if people in Illinois and Indiana consider this to be a priority, I’m pretty sure [Congress] will make it a priority in the next authorisation bill.”

However, even with strong labour and political support, the Illiana faces some challenges. Local communities that would be impacted by the construction of the highway, which would serve as an artery for noisy truck traffic, are opposed to the idea.

This road and the employment that it will create are much needed by the residents of Illinois

James Sweeney

And some residents in Indiana worry the alternative truck route would siphon air traffic away from the Gary/Chicago International Airport in case Illinois builds a third airport in the Chicago suburb of Peotone. But for residents of Illinois, Peotone would only add to the route’s job creation impact.

“If you tie in what’s going to happen at Peotone , it’s a home run for everybody,” Gannon said.

The two pieces of legislation passed by Illinois and Indiana also contain some differences that have to be ironed out. Indiana, for example, legislated a concession of no more than 75 years for the Illiana. Illinois, meanwhile, capped the concession at 99 years.

“Those are differences that we are going to have to work our way through,” Gannon said, adding: “I’m confident we’ll get that done.”