Illinois bill opens door to privatization

| 5/18/2011

A bill nearing passage in the Illinois Senate resorts to tapping private companies to help build new roads. The funding method is already authorized to build the long-sought Illiana Expressway.

The full Senate could soon take up for consideration a bill to open the door to allowing the state to form partnerships with private groups to get more road work done. The partnership would allow private business to partially or fully fund construction in return for revenues, such as tolls.

The state would be prohibited from partnering to expand existing roads.

Supporters say the state needs to think about tapping new resources to get road projects complete. They cite declining revenues available for taking the new approach.

Opponents question whether the state should form partnerships with profit-driven private business. Another concern is not tying public officials to votes on whether to toll projects. Private business does not have to worry about answering to unhappy voters, they say.

If approved, HB1091 would head back to the House for approval of changes before moving to Gov. Pat Quinn’s desk.

Private dollars are touted as the only viable option to pay for the long-discussed Illiana Expressway. A year ago, Quinn and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels signed a memorandum of understanding outlining a mutual commitment to the project connecting south Chicago to Indiana. Both men have touted the thousands of jobs that will be created and the benefit to regional commerce.

The Illiana Expressway is expected to allow travelers to avoid going into Chicago. Travelers could bypass the city by connecting I-55 near Joliet, IL, with I-65 in northwest Indiana. Another option on the table is to link I-65 with I-57 in Illinois.

In 2010, Quinn signed into law a bill permitting the state to partner with private groups to develop, build and manage the proposed 53-mile expressway. Daniels also approved similar legislation, which authorizes a private group to build and operate the proposed $1 billion roadway in exchange for toll revenue.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Illinois, click here.

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