9.10.13

THE CASE FOR BUILDING INFRASTRUCTURE.

It's no fun attempting to drive around the southern tip of Lake Michigan on the Illinois Tri-State Tollway and Interstates 80 - 94 in Indiana.  No room to build to the north, and transcontinental traffic coming in from St. Louis and points southwest funnels onto 80 near Joliet.  Wouldn't it make sense to provide additional capacity, perhaps to the south in a way to divert some west to southeast traffic out of the funnel?
A panel of state and local transportation agency officials, advocacy groups and county officials voted by a slim margin today to support the controversial Illiana Corridor.

The proposed $1.25 billion toll road through Will County would connect Interstates 55, 57 and 65 in Illinois and Indiana.
I like the idea of congestion pricing and toll roads, as the so-called freeways are not self-supporting.  The problem, though, with charging tolls on a new road south of the 55 - 80 - 94 - 65 funnel is that only a small stretch of the existing funnel is subject to toll, and the road-wrecking truckers are bypassing the toll segment already.
Advocates, chiefly officials from the Illinois Department of Transportation and officials from Will County, touted the estimated economic benefits of the Illiana and the need for relief from congestion.

“Local arterials (roads) are getting pounded by trucks,” said Peter Harmet, a top planning official with IDOT.

Critics cited the potential financial risks, including the possibility that if toll revenues fall short, taxpayers might be on the hook for as much as $1.1 billion to pay for the project.
Toll projections based on estimates of truck traffic are likely to be optimistic, as the trucking companies are experts of long standing at finding ways around the toll portion. On the other hand, it might be worth something to passenger car drivers to go cross-country without playing ducks and drakes with two or three lanes packed with semis in the funnel.  Perhaps that's the best reason to be skeptical of the project, although the editorial board at the Chicago Tribune offer numerous objections.
The 47-mile toll road is envisioned mainly as a trucking corridor, serving the Southland's growing intermodal freight system. It's meant to relieve congestion on I-80 and on local roads that are crowded with trucks seeking to avoid that traffic. It would pass just south of the planned south suburban airport near Peotone.

For local businesses and governments, the need for the Illiana is a no-brainer. Will County was among the nation's fastest growing counties from 2000 to 2008, as the region's population continued its outward migration from Chicago to the inner suburbs to the exurbs.

But the recession slowed that trend. And the debate over the Illiana is largely about whether regional planners should assume that growth will resume and build the infrastructure to support it — or try to arrest the pattern in favor of more controlled development.

The GO TO 2040 blueprint [a long range regional plan for Greater Chicago] encourages growth centered around the existing urban core and close to public transportation. Instead of reacting to population trends, the plan emphasizes "investment in existing communities, maintenance and modernization of our current transportation and infrastructure assets and targeted expansion."

The forecasts underlying IDOT's plan for the Illiana "assume a substantially different outcome for the region, placing more of the region's growth in outlying, undeveloped areas," the [Chicago Metropolitan Association for Planning] staff analysis says.

The [Metropolitan Planning Council] makes a strong case that IDOT is getting ahead of itself. A toll road that cuts through a sparsely populated area is not automatically a magnet for the trucks now crowding I-80.
Especially if there are opportunities to bypass the tolls. The editorial compares projected traffic on the Illiana to current traffic on Irving Park Road (from where to where is not specified).  There are stretches of Irving Park being beaten up by trucks, either heading into warehouses or avoiding the tolls.  On the other hand, because complex adaptive systems tend to do what they darn well please, opting not to provide additional capacity for passenger vehicles in areas that continue to develop as Chicago and the inner suburbs become even less desirable places to live is unlikely to stop the migration of people to safer quarters.

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