Environmentalists want the federal government to overturn its decision to approve the Illiana toll road project, in light of new and “compelling” evidence, they said.
The Environmental Law and Policy Center, Midewin Heritage Association, Sierra Club and a dozen others sent a letter with 40 pages of documentation to the Federal Highway Administration, citing four main reasons it should “withdraw and reconsider” its Record of Decision issued in December.
The decision was “based on outdated information,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center. “We have four solid arguments that stand on their own and in combination as to why they should reconsider this decision in a serious and respectful way.”
Learner admitted it is “not par for the course” for the federal agency to reconsider a decision, “but not much about Illiana is par for the course,” he said. “Rarely are they presented with facts like this.”
Their four reasons include substantial negative impacts on the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, exaggerated population forecasts, lack of viable financing, and Gov. Bruce Rauner’s suspension of the project — all of which were not realized when the Federal Highway Administration issued its record of decision in December.
The U.S. Forest Service, which operates Midewin, sent a letter in March and again this month to the highway administration, clarifying its position and stating that construction of the Illiana would result in “irreparable injury to grassland bird habitat at Midewin.”
The proposed 50-mile toll road, from Interstate 55 in Wilmington to I-65 in Lowell, Indiana, would run along the southern edge of the restored prairie.
“I do not agree with the (highway administration) view that the Illiana ‘will not substantially impair’ Midewin,” wrote Wade Spang, prairie supervisor at Midewin.
Secondly, the group’s letter cited recent evidence that the Illinois Department of Transportation never disclosed a report last year from Fitch Ratings, a major bond rating agency, that it would not give the state an investment grade rating for bonds for the Illiana, indicating that the project had a high risk of default through a private-public partnership.