Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The Highway to Chicago

On 3/16/97, an editorial from the Journal Star reiterated what the JS Editorial Board had been saying for many years, build a highway from Peoria to Chicago stating that “The Tri-County planning Commissions thinking was that an interstate highway from Peoria to Chicago would funnel development and jobs to this part of Illinois. Nothing has happened since then to suggest the commission was wrong”. This highway had a projected cost of $800,000,000.00. (Now eight years later, the cost would be closer to one billion dollars).

In an article in 1995 appearing in the Bloomington Pantagraph, our then IDOT engineer Dale Rissinger (now our State Representative in Springfield) was quoted as saying that “none of the four proposed routes showed any outstanding economic benefit because jobs created along the corridor would be at the expense of other Central Illinois communities”.

Another IDOT study “Heart of Illinois highway feasibility study”, dated August 1995, states “of the total passenger vehicle trips to and from the Peoria area east and north, only 8% were found to be through trips, with an origin or destination in the Chicago area”.

In a “Letter to the Editors” edited and printed by the JS Editorial Board on 9/16/1995, I stated 10 reasons why this highway should not be built. On 10/7/1995, the Bloomington Pantagraph published this same letter in its unedited version and as a “Guest Commentary”, identifying me as the former owner of a string of office supply stores and indicating that I traveled Illinois extensively. I pointed out that since 1980, many articles had been written based on reputable studies that USDOT had changed their interstate building philosophy from “mobility and efficiency” to the “feel and function” of a community.

An article dated 1990 in the Washington Post stated that the State of Maryland tripled their spending on innovative programs that encourage transit use and make roadways friendlier to pedestrians. They understood and saw that you might arrive close to your destination more quickly but then you were blocked by huge traffic jams.

In an article appearing 4/28/1999, in the JS, Washington,D.C.- based group called “Taxpayers for Common Sense” released an article about this proposed highway from Peoria to Chicago as one of the countries most wasteful road projects. The article called “Road to Ruin” labeled the Peoria road as “unneeded and dictated by business interests. There is no federal entitlement to a new road wherever one is wanted. There are other ways to get to Chicago that are acceptable…It is not worth a billion dollars to run a road from Peoria’s front door to Chicago”.

In an article written by JS transportation writer Omar Sofradzija on 9/20/03, Omar asks “Is the so-called Peoria to Chicago highway – only a slightly more direct road link - really worth the cost to save a few minutes on a Chicago bound drive”? This was the last article Omar wrote for the JS, departing for a newspaper job in Las Vegas calling it “his own one way trip out of Peoria.”

For my now proven correct stance I suffered the undying enmity of the Journal Star, the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce, some of the prominent road builders and financiers, some unions and many elected officials, including Dave Leitch and Ray LaHood.

We recently mostly wasted $12,000,000.00 on studies beating “a horse that died” over 20 years ago. USDOT was still funding mobility and efficiency at that time. However, at this late date and after a change of philosophy, the government is not going to build an interstate from Peoria to Chicago. If our leadership efforts many years ago didn’t get funding, we aren’t going to get it now. If some want to blame me, that’s flattering, but I really didn’t have any real power one way or the other.

Most recommendations I hear today is that that we continue to improve our local transportation systems and maintain what has been already built. However, we should continue to develop better linkage between (western and southwestern Illinois) so they can more easily access parts east and northeast and vice versa. These ongoing projects I support. I believe we all support improved road maintenance through out the State of Illinois.

We didn’t get left out of highway funding as approximately half a billion is or will be spent before Highway 74 is completed in future years.


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