Highways

Chicago Tribune Editorial: Should the Illinois Tollway keep spending this $25 million?

Should the Illinois Tollway keep spending this $25 million? 

By Editorial Board

Northern Illinois has its share of public works projects that have languished in the “planning stages” for years without ever seeing an inaugural bucket of concrete poured. Millions spent, nothing delivered. A third airport in Peotone comes to mind. So do the Iliana toll road and, for those with long memories, the Crosstown Expressway proposal of the 1960s and ’70s.

You probably can put the Route 53 extension on the same dusty shelf. Proposals for an expressway that would extend Route 53 into Lake County stretch back to the 1960s.

But now the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the arbiter over which transportation projects get whatever federal funding is available for the region, has taken the Route 53 extension off of its priority list. When you say “no federal funding,” you’ve said a lot.

Unbowed, the Illinois Tollway is forging ahead with a $25 million environmental study launched last year to help officials determine if the proposed toll road is needed to handle growth in Lake, northern Cook and eastern McHenry counties. The 25-mile extension would link up Arlington Heights in Cook County to Grayslake in Lake County, and widen a stretch of Route 120.

So while the already dim prospects for the project have grown ever dimmer, the Illinois Tollway is still spending the $25 million. Why?

Tollway officials say they hope this study will help bring finality to a half-century debate: Should this project be built or not? The officials say the study is examining a wide geographic area and not just the Route 53 corridor. Conceivably, the Route 53 extension or some other notion — improved arterial roads? — could emerge as a potential solution for the area’s traffic snarls. CMAP then could return the Route 53 extension or a replacement project to its priority list.

The question is whether those two “coulds” justify continuing to spend the $25 million. The Tollway by itself arguably can provide all the finality it wants: If CMAP is downgrading this idea, we’re finished spending money on it.

The Tribune’s Mary Wisniewski quotes former Tollway Director Bill Morris, of Grayslake, as calling the agency “irresponsible” for spending millions of dollars on yet another environmental study. Last year the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a consumer advocacy organization, listed the Route 53 project, which if ever built would carry a price tag of $2.65 billion, on its roster of the nation’s most wasteful highway boondoggles.

Still, the proposed extension has always had influential friends. They include the Illinois Economic Policy Institute, a think tank whose board members represent the construction industry and labor unions — entities that stand to profit if the extension ever gets built. Proponents of the extension argue it would bring jobs and commerce to Lake County.

But for now the proposal to extend Route 53 is going nowhere.

Here’s free-of-charge advice for the directors of the Tollway:

Your chairman, Bob Schillerstrom, says the environmental study is in its early stage. Yes, your staff sincerely thinks spending this $25 million could — emphasis ours — eventually lead to some project that CMAP would rule eligible for federal funding. But to those of us who pay the tolls, that sounds like a $25 million hope that the study will justify spending gazillions on new concrete.

With all of that, why not give the Route 53 extension — or any new derivative of it — a well-deserved rest? Why not declare any such project comatose for now? Why not revive it if and when the localities involved agree on whatever road improvements they desire?

And why not admit that continuing to spend the $25 million doesn’t bring finality to this long debate. It only perpetuates it.

Daily Herald: In Transit: App for Route 53 Extension Feedback Takes Flak

September 3, 2018

In Transit: App for Route 53 Extension Feedback Takes Flak 
By Marni Pyke

If the Founding Fathers had used Poll Everywhere at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia — would the final result be a better Constitution?

It might have depended on how fast they could type.

Illinois tollway consultants are using Poll Everywhere, a web-based audience participation system, at meetings with a group of local officials and others advising the agency on whether to extend Route 53 into Lake County.

The question has roiled Lake County for years, dividing residents over weighty problems like right of way, traffic, pollution and cost.

At a meeting Thursday, those divisions extended to use of the smartphone app to conduct the meeting, with some opponents of the new highway saying the technology is silencing their voices.

“I am extremely frustrated with how the tollway has engaged the stakeholders overall,” said Mayor Joseph Mancino of Hawthorn Woods, which could be bisected by a Route 53 extension. “Not only is the application unstable at best, it severely limits our input and quite frankly is a bit insulting to the stakeholders who are forced to use it.”

The tollway “wants to be able to parse through and say, ‘this is what people said,’ but that’s not what you do at a meeting where you want to have stakeholder participation,” stakeholder and Environmental Law and Policy Center chief Howard Learner said.

 

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PRESS RELEASE: Senate Democrats’ Infrastructure Plan Promotes Real Investments, Not Smoke & Mirrors

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Senate Democrats’ Infrastructure Plan Promotes Real Investments, Not Smoke & Mirrors

 Proposal respects need for maintaining environmental laws in planning process

 

STATEMENT BY HOWARD A. LEARNER

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ENVIRONMENTAL LAW & POLICY CENTER

In response to the Senate Democrats’ Infrastructure Plan proposal released today:

“America’s infrastructure needs modernizing and the Senate Democrats’ plan recognizes the only way to get there is with real investments – not smoke and mirrors,” Learner said. “The Senate Democrats’ infrastructure plan offers a roadmap without eviscerating environmental laws.”

“Smart infrastructure investments including modern higher-speed passenger rail and transit for better mobility and water system improvements are both needed to advance healthier clean air and safe clean drinking water for all,” Learner said. “This is a real opportunity for achieving job creation and environmental progress together.”

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PRESS RELEASE: Federal Infrastructure Plan Promotes Pollution and Privatization

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Federal Infrastructure Plan Promotes Pollution and Privatization

 Proposal to gut environmental reviews from planning process is shortsighted, won’t save money

 

STATEMENT BY HOWARD A. LEARNER

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ENVIRONMENTAL LAW & POLICY CENTER

 

In response to the Trump Administration’s Infrastructure Plan proposal released today:

“America’s infrastructure needs investment and modernizing, but gutting our environmental laws is the wrong way to get there,” Learner said. “President Trump’s plan promotes pollution and privatization.”

“Smart infrastructure investments including modern higher-speed passenger rail for better mobility and water system improvements that advance healthier clean air and safe clean drinking water for all,” Learner said. “The Trump Administration’s proposal goes in the wrong direction and misses the best opportunities for achieving job creation and environmental progress together.”

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Illinois Times: ELPC’s Learner Says Federal Court Ruling on Illiana Should Finally End Proposed Toll Road

Illinois-Times-Logo

End of the Road for Illiana?
Controversial Toll Road Loses Second Court Battle
November 10, 2016
By Patrick Yeagle

A federal court struck down last week an environmental study used to justify a new tollway in northern Illinois.

It’s the second such loss in court for the controversial project, which was already suspended but still clings to life.

The Illiana Expressway is a proposed 50-mile, east-west toll road which would connect Interstate 55 south of Chicago to Interstate 65 in northwestern Indiana. The project is intended to relieve congestion on Interstate 80, 15 miles to the north.

Controversial from the start, the Illiana proposal has long been a priority for the Illinois Department of Transportation. Gov. Bruce Rauner says Illinois won’t spend more money on the project, but opponents say IDOT has continued to pursue it anyway.

The controversy is twofold: whether the road is actually needed and what effect it may have on Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, a nearby national nature preserve.

IDOT has projected population growth of more than 170 percent by 2040 in the area surrounding the proposed road, but that estimate is contradicted by two other planning agencies which control federal funding in that area.

Meanwhile, the potential environmental effect of the project was the basis for a lawsuit filed in 2013 by the Midewin Heritage Association, the Illinois Sierra Club and environmental group Openlands. The groups sued IDOT and the Federal Highway Administration, saying the required environmental impact statement used to justify the project was flawed.

A federal court agreed in June 2015, ruling that the study overestimated the consequences of not building the expressway and failed to adequately consider the potential effects on the surrounding area.

While that lawsuit was pending, IDOT and the FHA continued pursuing the project, releasing a second “tier” of the environmental study which built on the first. On Oct. 31, another federal judge ruled that the second tier was invalid because it relied on a first tier which had already been found faulty.

Just before the first federal court decision in June 2015, Rauner vetoed funding for the project, saying that because of the “current fiscal crisis and a lack of sufficient capital resources, the Illiana Expressway will not move forward at this time.” A spokeswoman for Rauner referred a reporter to IDOT.

Still, IDOT continued to defend the environmental study in court, filing a document in October 2015 saying IDOT and its counterpart in Indiana would continue to revise the study.

Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, calls Illiana a “fiscal folly” which should have died long ago. ELPC represented the environmental groups for free in the lawsuit against the state.

Read More 

 

Chicago Tribune: Latest Illiana Tollway Federal Court Ruling Helps Further Unwind Project

Chicago Tribune

Environmental Groups Happy with Judge’s Ruling on Illiana Tollway Project

By Zak Koeske

vironmental groups that oppose construction of the Illiana Tollway are celebrating a second federal court judge’s ruling that the Federal Highway Administration’s 2014 approval of the bi-state project was invalid.

U.S. District Court Judge Charles Norgle found Tuesday that portions of the project’s proposal that relied on its already legally invalidated foundation also were invalid.

The environmental plaintiffs — Openlands, Midewin Heritage Association and Sierra Club Illinois — had challenged both the Tier 1 and Tier 2 environmental impact statements and the federal government’s “records of decision” greenlighting the 47-mile highway project through Will County.

The U.S., Illinois and Indiana transportation departments were named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Last June, a federal court judge ruled that the Federal Highway Administration’s approval of the Tier 1 portion of the project, which looked at broad issues like the location, mode choice and area-wide environmental impact of the alternatives under consideration, was “arbitrary and capricious,” and in violation of U.S. environmental law.

Norgle’s decision Tuesday found that the prior federal approval of the Tier 2 statement, which relied upon the invalidated Tier 1 statement, must also be invalid and was thus “no longer effective.”

“The federal district court has now twice ruled in favor of the environmental plaintiffs that the Tier 1 and the Tier 2 Environmental Impact Statements are legally invalid,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, which challenged the tollway project in court on behalf of the environmental plaintiffs.

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NW Indiana Times: Illiana Continues on Slow Road Through Courts

nwi times

Illiana Continues on Slow Road Through Courts
November 4, 2016
By Andrew Steele

The Illiana Expressway’s lingering presence continued this week with a court ruling affirming that federal approval of the project was based on a flawed and invalid environmental study.

But the decision by Judge Charles Norgle of the U.S. District Court of Northern Illinois leaves open the opportunity for the Indiana and Illinois departments of transportation to revise their environmental studies and continue pursuing the project.

The lawsuit was brought by the environmental groups Openlands, Midewin Heritage Association and Sierra Club. They asked the court to declare the Federal Highway Administration’s approval of the Illiana project’s Tier 2 environmental impact statement to be in violation of federal law. Approval of the Tier 2 EIS is the final step allowing a project to move forward.

But Norgle dismissed the case as moot, because the Tier 2 study was based on a Tier 1 study a federal court found to be flawed last year.

In that separate Tier 1 case, Judge Jorge Alonso ruled that the environmental assessment did not adequately consider the implications of not building the Illiana. Such a “no build” alternative is required by the National Environmental Protection Act.

And because the Tier 2 study “relied upon the invalid Tier 1 approvals,” Norgle wrote in his ruling this week, the plaintiffs’ success in the Tier 1 case “moots this (Tier 2 ) case.”

“To hear the Tier 2 case predicated on the uncompleted Tier 1,” Norgle wrote, “is akin to a farmer concerning himself with the quantity of chicken feed to purchase before the eggs have hatched.”

The Illiana Expressway would operate as a toll road stretching about 50 miles from Interstate 65 near Lowell to Interstate 55 in Illinois.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner halted the project in 2014 amidst that state’s budget crisis. The Illinois Department of Transportation still considers the Illiana project “suspended,” a spokeswoman said earlier this month.

The Indiana Department of Transportation has taken on the responsibility of revising the Tier 1 EIS. An INDOT spokesman said Thursday that the agency expects to complete work by the end of the year, “allowing the project to remain on hold in ready status.”

But the Environmental Law & Policy Center, which represents the three plaintiffs, claim the ruling should end the Illiana project “once and for all.”

In a press release, the ELPC noted that Norgle’s ruling states that the Tier 2 EIS is “no longer effective.”

“Federal judges have now twice found the federal and state transportation agencies’ environmental reviews of the proposed Illiana Tollway to be invalid and illegal,” said Howard Learner, the lead attorney and executive director of the ELPC.

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Crain’s Chicago Business: Illiana Corridor Whacked Again in Federal Court

Crain’s Chicago Business

Illiana Corridor Whacked Again in Federal Court

GREG HINZ ON POLITICS

A federal judge has stuck another knife into the just-barely-alive proposed Illiana Corridor.

In a decision released Nov. 1. U.S. District Court Judge Charles Norgle used terms such as “invalid” and “no longer effective” to describe a Tier 2 Environmental Impact Statement prepared on behalf of the project by the Illinois Department of Transportation and its Indiana counterpart.

IDOT had hoped to forestall a ruling. But Norgle held the EIS no longer is valid because of prior court action, so there is no controversy to consider.

Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center and chief attorney for the groups that oppose putting a tollway between Interstate 55 in Illinois and Interstate 65 in Indiana, hailed the decision as one more nail in the Iliana’s coffin.

The ruling means IDOT and the Indiana agency “must start over their environmental reviews from the beginning based on much more realistic data and do it right without impermissible shortcuts,” he said. That will take time and money, and if done right, “would very likely show that the proposed costly Illiana toll way is not economically justified and is not environmentally sensible.”

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Press Release: Victory on Proposed Illiana Tollway: Federal Judge Rules Transpo Agencies’ Environmental Studies “Invalid”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

NOVEMBER 2, 2016

Contact: Judith Nemes JNemes@elpc.org (312) 795-3706

Victory on Proposed Illiana Tollway: Federal Judge Rules Transpo Agencies’ Environmental Studies “Invalid”
Environmental Groups Call for End to Boondoggle Tollway

CHICAGO – A U.S. District Court judge yesterday ruled that state and federal transportation agencies’ approvals of an environmental impact statement on the proposed 50-mile Illiana Tollway is “invalid” and “no longer effective.”

Judge Charles Norgle of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois’ ruled yesterday that the “Tier 2” environmental impact statement (EIS) is invalid because it was based on the initial Tier 1, which the Federal District Court declared illegal on June 16, 2015. The agencies’ Tier 1 EIS relied on improper methodologies to support the proposed Illiana Tollway in rejecting better alternatives. Their Tier 2 EIS relied on the flawed underlying Tier 1 EIS in then choosing among proposed corridors to build this proposed new tollway.

“Federal judges have now twice found the federal and state transportation agencies’ environmental reviews of the proposed Illiana Tollway to be invalid and illegal,” said Howard Learner, lead attorney and Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “The transportation agencies impermissibly skewed their environmental reviews from the outset to somehow justify the proposed new Illiana Tollway. Today’s court decision should end the boondoggle Illiana Tollway once and for all.”

“Today’s decision is a win both for good planning and for respecting environmental concerns while addressing transportation needs,” said Jerry Adelman, President and CEO of Openlands, one of the plaintiffs in the case. “We look forward to a genuine solution that honors our region’s beautiful and threatened natural areas and Illinois’ rich agricultural heritage.”

“We’re ready to work with local communities and leaders on transportation solutions that work while reducing traffic, allowing the Midewin to continue to grow as a major asset for Will County and our entire region, and create good jobs,” said Ann Baskerville, Conservation Organizer with the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter, another plaintiff.

The transportation agencies prepared the studies in order to gain approval for the $1.5 billion proposed Illiana Toll Road, which has been assailed as economically unnecessary to the region and a likely endangerment to the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in Illinois. The defendant agencies include the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, Illinois Department of Transportation, and Indiana Department of Transportation.

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StreetsBlog: The Illiana Tollway is Becoming a “Zombie Highway”

StreetsBlog Chicago

October 10, 2016
Just in Time for Halloween: The Illiana is Becoming a “Zombie Highway”
by Steven Vance

A new filing in the court case against the Illiana Tollway – a proposed 47-mile highway through farmland and nature preserves that would cause exurban sprawl and lead to Illinois jobs being lost to Indiana — indicates that Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner may actually be in favor of the project. In recent years it looked like Rauner was making moves to kill the project, but now it appears the Illiana is becoming a so-called “zombie highway” project that just won’t die.

Here’s a rundown of how Rauner previously indicated that he was killing the project. In January 2015, the newly elected governor suspended spending on non-essential capital projects, including the Illiana. In the first week of June 2015, he said the Illinois Department of Transportation would remove the Illiana Tollway from its capital plan.

Two weeks later a federal judge halted the planning of the new tollway by ruling that the required Environmental Impact Statement was invalid because the study used the circular logic that the tollway would be needed because of new housing that would be developed along the corridor… due to the construction of the highway. In September 2015, the U.S. DOT dropped their appeal of the ruling, effectively pulling support for the project.

Now here’s how the state is either keeping the Illiana on life support or else trying to keep the zombie under wraps. In July 2015, Rauner authorized spending $5.5 million to “wind down” the project, and to pay for some litigation fees.

In April this year, the Indiana DOT said that they would pay for rewriting the Environmental Impact Study. However, IDOT spokesman Guy Trigdell said “the approach in Illinois has not changed” and “we are not pursuing the project.”

News last week shows that IDOT currently appears to have a greater involvement in the project than previously stated. The Daily Southtown reported that John Fortmann, an IDOT engineer, filed a statement in federal court that said “IDOT is working cooperatively” with the Indiana DOT to fix the problems with the EIS that made the court rule it invalid.

Continue reading here.

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