U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson told local lawmakers and union workers Tuesday that the Illiana Expressway must be built from I-65 to I-55, and she called it Illinois� �next No. 1 project.�

From left, U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
Photo by Paula Widholm
From left, U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood also told the group gathered at a union training facility in Wilmington, Ill., that Chicago�s far southwest suburbs are �well-positioned for opportunity in the next transportation bill.�

The Illiana Expressway originally was slated as a 25-mi highway from I-65 to I-57 but many lawmakers now seek to extend it another 20 mi west to I-55. William Borgo, mayor of Manhattan, said the additional stretch is necessary to handle the huge volume of trucks traveling in and out of BNSF�s railyard and surrounding warehouses in Elwood.

Also, another intermodal center slated to be even larger than the one in Elwood is under construction just 2 mi north in Joliet and will receive its first train this summer. Union Pacific will serve this new logistics park, further increasing truck traffic across state lines. The main goal of the Illiana Expressway is to divert truck traffic from I-80 and U.S. Route 30 and stop the bottlenecks into Indiana, according to Borgo.

Halvorson (D-11th) also pointed to the economic growth along nearby I-355 as an example of the development that could line the proposed 45-mi east-west route of the Illiana.

Lawmakers are reserving a corridor starting at I-65 in Indiana, about 10 mi east of the state line, continuing west just below Chicago�s south suburbs and ending at I-55. Extending the highway to I-55 also raises the project�s cost to about $2 billion.

Private investment is desperately needed to move the Illiana project as well as other transportation jobs forward, Halvorson said.

Illinois has a bill on the senate floor allowing for such a public-private partnership, and it will go to vote by the end of this session, according to State Sen. Toi Hutchinson, sponsor of the bill, SB3392. She said Tuesday she hadn�t heard of any opposition to the bill.

On March 2,the Indiana senate passed a similar bill allowing a private investor to build the Illiana Expressway and operate it as a toll road, though the state would own the land underneath.

Michael Mullen, CEO of CenterPoint Properties, developer of the Joliet intermodal center and Elwood logistics park, said in a panel discussion March 18 that his firm is investing in infrastructure because there�s simply not enough money coming from the federal government to fund the necessary work to be done.

"There's opportunity for the private sector," he said, adding that pension funds and labor unions are also interested in investing in infrastructure.

Of course, area leaders also still seek federal transportation dollars, and before the presentation Tuesday, local lawmakers took LaHood on a bus tour, showing him the area�s transportation challenges. The group traveled along east-west U.S. 30, which is in dire need of additional lanes and major intersections, Halvorson said.

LaHood said he�s working with Congress to pass a five-year spending plan for the nation�s infrastructure.

The previous transportation appropriations bill expired in 2009.