A long-sought east-west toll road south of Chicago is closer to reality following approval last week by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning's MPO Policy Committee.

The Yes vote means the Illiana Corridor project is eligible for federal funding, and the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) can seek bids from the private sector, according to an announcement by Gov. Pat Quinn.

The Illiana Project, which backers say is an innovative public-private partnership to build a much-needed regional highway, is a key part is a key part of the governor’s agenda to drive economic growth throughout the south suburbs and across Illinois.

Another part of Quinn’s agenda is a proposed South Suburban Airport. And other interests are pushing the idea of an enhanced rail route that would parallel the new highway and bypass congestion in the Chicago area, the nation’s busiest railroad center.

"I applaud the members of the MPO Policy Committee for making the Illiana a priority,” Quinn said in a statement. “This regional highway will not only serve the largest and fastest growing areas in Illinois, it will have a long-term economic impact of more than $4 billion in the region."

The Illiana will be a 47-mile, four-lane, controlled-access toll road that extends from Interstate 55 in Illinois on the west to I-65 in Indiana on the east. It could syphon traffic from busy I-80 while encouraging economic development along its length. Potential economic benefits include the creation of more than 9,000 construction jobs and 28,000 long-term jobs, the governor’s office said.

The Illinois and Indiana Departments of Transportation (IDOT and INDOT, respectively) have been planning the Illiana with the Federal Highway Administration since the spring of 2011. The preferred corridor is being refined and discussed, with a public hearing on the proposed location to be held later this year.

Additional public input on the project will be sought during the state and federal agency and public-private partnership approval process, the governor’s office said. The Illiana planning process is expected to be complete early next year.

IDOT and INDOT can then select a private team to finance and build the road. It will be the first public-private partnership of its kind in Illinois, the governor said. This financing method, which has already been used by Indiana on other projects, will bring new investment dollars into the state transportation system and allow the agencies to make further infrastructure investments in the region.

Studies by IDOT and INDOT have shown that the Illiana will relieve local and regional congestion, create jobs, and serve as a much needed trucking corridor in the bi-state region.