The new year will bring new opportunity to the Midwest, even as the region contends with such legacy issues as Detroit's bankruptcy and tighter environmental regulations. Midwest states are accustomed to privatizing public assets to fund public programs, but a proposed tollway linking Illinois and Indiana presents a first for the region: a major P3 project constructed from the ground up. Elsewhere in Illinois, road programs are generating thousands of construction jobs, the result of efforts by Gov. Pat Quinn. Another potential boon—hydraulic fracturing—may be facing a pivotal year in Ohio. The year also may prove a critical one for the region's most eclectic designers as plans move forward to convert a century-old powerplant into a riverfront attraction. Here's what we'll be watching in 2014.
After years of planning, Illinois and Indiana's departments of transportation are seeking developers to finance, construct and operate a $1.5-billion, 47-mile tollway linking the two states. If built, the east-west Illiana Expressway would connect Interstate 65 in northwest Indiana to I-55 in northeast Illinois, thereby relieving congestion on I-80, a freeway closer to Chicago. As planned, developers would recoup their investment from tolls generated by the highway.
The approach isn't without risk. In 2006, Texas contracted with a developer to construct a 41-mile segment of State Highway 130 near Austin, but the tollway generated only low to moderate traffic as motorists preferred to use an existing freeway.
In October, Moody's Investors Service lowered the rating on the tollway company to junk status at Caa3 from B1. The same month, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning approved Illiana, despite concluding that state officials overestimated the tolls it would generate while low-balling the costs required to construct and operate it.
"A highly visible failure could put a damper on other P3s in the region—even ones that make sense," says Anirban Basu, chief economist with Washington, D.C.- based Associated Builders and Contractors.
Studio Gang Architects
How do you follow up the most acclaimed tower to join Chicago's skyline in a generation? If you're MacArthur Fellow Jeanne Gang, principal with Studio Gang Architects and designer of the undulating Aqua Tower, a residential high-rise on Chicago's Gold Coast, you accept a commission to convert a 100-year-old powerplant into a recreation center.
In October, Beloit, Wis.-based Beloit College commissioned Studio Gang to convert Blackhawk Generating Station, operated by Alliant Energy, into a $30-million showcase for sustainable design and the surrounding riverfront. Proposed uses include a swimming pool and 150-seat auditorium.
Closer to home, sitework has begun on a $148-million residential complex the firm designed for University of Chicago (UofC). As with Aqua, Gang will sculpt with concrete, in this case to "distill" UofC's neo-Gothic forms "and find out what they mean now," she told local architecture critic Blair Kamin.