Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn leaves office in January, leaving in question the fate of his proposed $1.5 billion Illiana Expressway, seemingly unstoppable just a year or so ago.
Under his stewardship, and that of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Quinn conceived plans for a 47-mile tollway connecting I-65 in northwest Indiana to I-55 in northeast Illinois, about 58 miles south of Chicago, thereby relieving congestion on I-80, an east-west corridor in closer proximity to the city. And taxpayers wouldn't have to cough up a dime. Instead, private developers would finance, construct and operate Illiana, recouping their investments from tolls it accrued through 2052.
They may still, but as the Midwest's first major P3 to be built from the ground up, Illiana has undergone extraordinary amounts of scrutiny and emerged the worse for it. Among other issues, how likely was it that sufficient numbers of truck drivers, to whom the project was pitched, would divert to Illiana to pay up to 79 cents per mile, several times that of other Illinois tollways? Nevertheless, agencies key to securing federal support for the project saw it for the dubious proposition it was but endorsed it anyway. Plans advanced to the point where Illinois and Indiana issued RFI's to prospective developers last year.
That's when it became clear the project wasn't self supporting, or at least not in the way Quinn and Pence initially suggested. By the time Illinois shortlisted prospective investors, Illiana was no longer a concessions-P3, but an AP-P3, meaning if toll revenues fell short of availability payments to developers, the state (read: taxpayers) would be on the hook for the difference, perhaps $1 billion or more. Indiana likewise issued an AP-P3.
Since then, support for Illiana as waned, to put it mildly. Last Friday the Chicago Tribune, never a fan of the project, issued “Memo to [Governor Elect] Bruce Rauner: Kill the Illiana Expressway,” an editorial that in part reads: “First, the upside: There is no upside...In this public-private partnership, the risk is all on the public side of the equation.”
When asked whether he supported Illiana, Rauner replied, “Don't know. Have to see the studies.” My guess is once he does, the tax-averse governor-elect will come to a decision pretty quickly.
A P3 by any other name isn't a P3, no matter how you try to spin it. As Peter Samuel wrote in Tollroads News last year, “The AP-P3 is so completely different in character...it shouldn't be sheltered behind the P3 label.”