State, federal officials to appeal blocked Illiana project

Illinois’ DOT has joined other government agencies appealing a court ruling that deemed federal approval of the $1.3bn toll road project ‘invalid.’

The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) will be appealing a ruling handed down by US District Court Judge Jorge Alonso that effectively blocks the Illiana Expressway project from moving ahead, a spokesperson for IDOT told Infrastructure Investor on Tuesday.

IDOT has filed an appeal alongside the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT), sponsors of the 47-mile highway that would connect Interstate 55 (I-55) in Illinois to Interstate 65 (I-65) in Indiana and which is estimated to cost $1.3 billion.

“The project remains on indefinite hold and is no longer part of IDOT’s multi-year programme,” IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell said in an e-mail.

IDOT removed the project from its multi-year plan earlier this year. “In light of the state's current fiscal crisis and a lack of sufficient capital resources, the Illiana Expressway will not move forward at this time,” the office of Governor Bruce Rauner said in a statement issued June 2. “It is the determination of IDOT that the project costs exceed currently available resources.”

On June 16, Judge Alonso ruled that FHWA’s approval of the Tier 1 final Environmental Impact Study and Record of Decision for the project was “arbitrary and capricious” and in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Procurement for the Illiana Expressway, which was conceived in 2011, is already underway. IDOT and INDOT, which are working together on the project but procuring it under separate public-private partnership (PPP; P3) agreements, announced shortlisted teams last year.

The project has also qualified for a low-cost federal loan through the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA), a programme governed by USDOT and FHWA. The loan could finance up to one-third of the cost of construction and result in potential savings of 20 percent off the $1.3 billion price tag.

According to Tridgell, “all parties continue to explore their options on this project going forward.”