Aerial view of Interstate 90 and 94 crossing Interstate 55 in Chicago, Illinois. | iofoto
State Rep. Jeanne Ives (R-Wheaton) wants more details before passing judgment on the state transportation secretary's plan to address congestion issues on the Eisenhower Expressway.
"At this time, I would need more information on the specific projects, the effect of the new constitutional amendment on transportation funds and what we can pay for," Ives told the DuPage Policy Journal. "I would want some reforms to workers' compensation and prevailing wages to make it cost-effective for taxpayers."
The Illinois Transportation Taxes and Fees Lockbox Amendment ballot measure was approved by voters on Election Day. The measure prohibits the General Assembly from using transportation funds for non-transportation-related projects.
Randall Blankenhorn mentioned plans for the Eisenhower Expressway, Interstate 290. | File photo
Randall Blankenhorn, who has been Illinois' transportation secretary since his appointment by Gov. Bruce Rauner nearly a year ago, did not mention the amendment during a recent presentation before the Chicago City Club. He did talk about the need to encourage more private funding of state highway infrastructure projects and for his department to find new ways to leverage private investment.
"We've created a new bureau of innovative product delivery in the Office of Planning and Programming to analyze opportunities to bring in private-sector dollars into transportation projects," Blankenhorn said. "We need to develop that expertise in house and start to think about how we deliver projects at the beginning of the development process, not try to force-fit P3s into our existing projects."
Blankenhorn mentioned plans for the Eisenhower Expressway, Interstate 290, but only briefly after talking about improvements on Interstate 55, the Stevenson Expressway.
"We have had some early successes with our managed lane projects on the Stevenson Expressway and with the Houbolt Bridge project in Will County, but there's much more to do," Blankenhorn said. "On the Stevenson, we received federal environmental approval this summer to construct an additional tolled express lane in each direction between Interstate 355 and the Dan Ryan Expressway. We're going to proceed with the delivery of this project as a public-private partnership as soon as we get the blessing of the Illinois General Assembly."
Blankenhorn wasn’t announcing anything new about proposed improvements to I-55. In February, Rauner announced a legislative resolution for IDOT to pursue an I-55 managed-lane proposal. That joint resolution, co-sponsored by five House Republicans, remains in the state House Rules Committee.
However, optimism for its ultimate passage apparently remains high. This past fall, IDOT officials met during an information workshop of 17 teams made up of more than 200 interested parties, including local contractors and consultants, to discuss that project and offer thoughts on how to best deliver it.
"Once we have that extra capacity on I-55, we can begin to address other congestion issues, starting with the Eisenhower," Blankenhorn said. "I believe the I-55 managed-lane project can be a model that we can use elsewhere when conditions are right."
Those improvements and others like them will determine how the state will address economic development opportunities on a targeted strategic basis across the state. "Innovative projects like these, I hope, are sending a message that it's no longer business as usual at IDOT," Blankenhorn said.
Ives said she still needs more data.
"Transportation is an important issue to Illinois, and our network is an economic engine and a competitive advantage for our state," Ives told DuPage Policy Journal. "That said, solving our budget problem and not adding anymore expensive taxpayer-funded projects is the most important work legislators have ahead of them right now."
Ives said she hasn't heard about any bills coming down the pike that might address what Blankenhorn briefly described.
"I personally tend to favor user fees and believe our toll roads are better maintained and less-crowded than other state roads," Ives said.