Illinois nears privatization approval

| 6/6/2011

The Illinois General Assembly has approved a bill that resorts to tapping private companies to help build new roads. The funding method is already authorized to build the long-sought Illiana Expressway.

Senate lawmakers voted 33-12 to advance 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.

State lawmakers would be required to approve all potential public-private partnerships. Also, the state would be prohibited from partnering to expand existing roads.

Following the Senate vote, the House voted 65-40 to sign off on changes to the bill. The vote cleared the way for HB1091 to move to Gov. Pat Quinn’s desk.

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.

Private dollars are touted as the only viable option to pay for the long-discussed Illiana Expressway. In June 2010, 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.

A year ago, 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 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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