SPRINGFIELD — In another sign the controversial Illiana Expressway still has a pulse, Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration is seeking legislative approval of tax breaks that could benefit the on-again, off-again project.
In a proposal filed by the Illinois Department of Revenue on July 10, the administration is seeking sales tax exemptions for building materials used to construct the road, which would connect Interstate 55 in Will County with Interstate 65 in Indiana.
The sales tax proposal, which is pending before the Illinois General Assembly's Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, is in a public comment stage through Aug. 24.
The 47-mile tollway has been a lightning rod since it was proposed as a way to reduce heavy congestion on Interstate 80, located 15 miles to the north.
Former Gov. Pat Quinn pushed hard for the $1.5 billion project to move forward before he left office in January. Rauner suspended the project earlier this year as part of a review process that is under way during tight budget times.
In June, however, the Republican governor signed legislation that included $5.5 million for ongoing efforts to develop the highway.
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The project also has been the subject of a federal court ruling that found the Federal Highway Administration's approval of the project in 2013 violated U.S. environmental law.
The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by Illinois environmental groups, which alleged the green light from the federal government was based on faulty information.
Howard, Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, was surprised to hear the administration was pursuing the sales tax exemption proposal in light of the federal ruling.
"I don't get it. Why in the world is the Department of Revenue proposing to grant a sales tax exemption for this project?" Learner said. "It's time for the State of Illinois to stop wasting money on boondoggle projects like the Illiana Expressway."
Indiana officials have said multiple times that they support the road and are waiting for Illinois to signal it is ready to proceed.
A spokesman for the Illinois Department of Revenue could not immediately be reached for comment.