Over the last 15 years, Will County and the surrounding region have become the preeminent location for intermodal connections, distribution centers and logistics activities in the Midwest. In fact, Will County today is the largest inland international container port in North America, based on a capacity of 3 million container lifts.
Population and job growth have made Will County one of the fastest-growing counties in Illinois. The county has added more than 170,000 people since the 2000 census — a 32 percent increase — and it has more than 290,000 jobs. In the last 12 months alone, more than 9,000 new jobs have been created.
Transportation is key to job growth in Will County and Illinois. Investing in projects of regional and national significance like the Illiana Expy. secures our economic future. The purpose and need for the road is published in the 2014 Record of Decision issued by the Federal Highway Administration. In addition to providing congestion relief to I-80 and the I-90/94 corridors, it will provide a freight bypass for the entire Chicago area. Without the Illiana, there will be a three-fold increase in vehicle miles traveled in regional congestion to over 1.2 million miles per day by 2040. The Illiana must be built if Chicago is to keep its dominant international freight hub status.
The best thing about the Illiana — unlike other major state-funded road projects — is that the road will pay for itself over 30 years. Through a sophisticated design-finance-build Public Private Partnership (P3), public bonds and private investment will be paid back through user fees. Leveraging diminishing public transportation funding with private investment using the P3 model is a good way to fund mega-projects like the Illiana with minimum taxpayer exposure. If the private money doesn’t come to the table, the project will not be built. Period.
The governor of Illinois and the Legislature are charged with providing the infrastructure needed for business growth and tax base expansion. As Gov. Rauner has said, “Illinois has to grow its way out of our financial mess.” Committing state money in the next capital bill to seed the Illiana Expy. would be a small down payment for thousands of new jobs and millions of dollars of new tax revenue.
John E. Greuling is president & CEO of the Will County Center for Economic Development.