The 99-year, $1.83 billion lease of the Chicago Skyway in 2004 was celebrated as a triumph for Chicago and an important precedent for future infrastructure concession agreements. The prior history of the Skyway had been characterized by remarkable failure. It was conceived in 1953 to address an anticipated traffic crisis caused by piecemeal highway development and a lack of regional planning. Its financing was based upon faulty traffic projections, leading to one of the largest municipal bond defaults in history. Its management was plagued by charges of petty corruption and neglect, and contributed to the environmental degradation and decline of Southeast Chicago.
This lecture will trace the history of Skyway failures, as well as the nature and context of the facility’s financial revival and reconstruction in the 1990s. It contributes an historical perspective on public-private partnerships in the context of changes in municipal policy, intergovernmental relations, global finance, and political ideology.
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