Federal Highway Administration

Victory in Federal Court! Illiana Tollway Tier 2 EIS “Invalid”

ELPC litigation success! U.S. District Court Judge Charles Norgle issued an Order yesterday holding that the federal and state transportation agencies’ approvals of the Tier 2 environmental impact statement and record of decision for the boondoggle Illiana Tollway are “invalid” and “no longer effective.” ELPC Staff Attorney Rachel Granneman and I are representing Openlands, Midewin Heritage Association and Sierra Club in this case.

Federal judges have now twice held in favor of ELPC and our clients that the federal and state transportation agencies’ environmental reviews of the proposed Illiana Tollway were invalid and illegal. The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) impermissibly skewed their environmental reviews from the outset to somehow justify the proposed new Illiana Tollway. Their Tier 1 EIS, which was held to be illegal by the federal court on June 16, 2015, relied on improper methodologies to support the proposed Illiana Tollway and reject better alternatives. Their Tier 2 EIS relied on the flawed underlying Tier 1 EIS in then choosing among proposed corridors to build this tollway.

The new federal court decision yesterday ruled “invalid” and “no longer effective” the Tier 2 EIS approvals by IDOT, INDOT and the Federal Highway Administration. Accordingly, the court then stated that the case is now “moot” and dismissed the lawsuit. We are pleased that the federal courts have now held that both the Tier 1 and Tier 2 environmental impact statements are illegal and cannot be relied upon for the proposed new Illiana Tollway.

The U.S. District Court’s decision means that IDOT and INDOT must start over their environmental reviews from the beginning based on much more realistic data and do it right without impermissible shortcuts. However, if done right, that would very likely show that the proposed costly Illiana Tollway is not economically justified and is not environmentally sensible.

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: The proposed new Illiana Tollway proposal is fiscally irresponsible, contradicts sound regional planning, and would harm the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. It’s time for IDOT and INDOT to stop wasting taxpayers’ money and time, and instead bring the boondoggle Illiana Tollway to its well-deserved end.

Thank you for your continued engagement and support. We’re winning.

Daily Herald: Is the Illiana Expressway project officially scuttled?

The Federal Highway Administration has dropped its objections to a judge’s ruling against the Illiana Expressway, which could mean the end of the road for the controversial project.

A federal judge in June called a Federal Highway Administration report and decision in favor of the controversial expressway “arbitrary and capricious.”

The proposed tollway would link I-55 in the south suburbs with I-65 in Indiana.

The highway administration filed a legal challenge but confirmed it was withdrawn Tuesday, delighting the Environmental Law and Policy Center which sued to stop construction of the Illiana.

“It’s time for the federal and state transportation agencies to now bring the boondoggle Illiana Tollway to an end,” Executive Director Howard Learner said in a statement.

Keep Reading

Press Release: FHWA Withdraws Appeal of Court Decision Finding that Illiana Tollway Environmental Review was Illegal

For Immediate Release

September 22, 2015

 FHWA Withdraws Appeal of Court Decision Finding that Illiana Tollway Environmental Review was Illegal

ELPC Says the Illiana Tollway Boondoggle Should End Now

CHICAGO – The Federal Highway Administration is voluntarily dismissing its appeal of the Federal District Court’s June 16, 2015 decision holding that the federal and state transportation agencies’ approvals of the Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision were “arbitrary and capricious” and violated the National Environmental Policy Act and Administrative Procedure Act.

As a result, the Illinois Department of Transportation’s and Indiana Department of Transportation’s fundamentally flawed environmental impact statement process must start over and use much more realistic data.

Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center who serves as lead counsel for the Plaintiffs Midewin Heritage Association, Openlands and Sierra Club, said: “The Federal Highway Administration has withdrawn its appeal of the Federal District Court’s decision that invalidated the flawed environmental impact statement process for the proposed new Illiana Tollway.  It’s time for the federal and state transportation agencies to now bring the boondoggle Illiana Tollway to an end.”

“The Illinois and Indiana Departments of Transportation should stop wasting taxpayers’ money on the Illiana tollroad to nowhere that is contrary to sound regional planning and would damage the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie,” Learner added.

On June 16, 2015 Federal District Court Judge Jorge Alonso issued an Opinion and Order determining that IDOT’s plan to build the Illiana Tollway was based on analyses that are “fatally flawed.” The Court concluded that the agencies violated the National Environmental Policy Act and used a circular logic to make their initial case about how the proposed Illiana Tollway will lead to population growth and traffic demand. They assumed traffic growth would be the same regardless of whether the costly proposed new Illiana Tollway was ever built or not. The Court remanded the Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision to be redone in accordance with the decision and applicable law.

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Breaking News: The Illiana Tollway is Ditched by Governor Rauner and IDOT

Governor Rauner and the Illinois Department of Transportation just axed the proposed Illiana Tollway boondoggle. This is great news for Illinois taxpayers, sound regional planning and protecting the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. Today, the Governor issued a press release announcing that the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) will “remove the [Illiana Tollway] project from its current multi-year plan” and “begin the process of suspending all existing project contracts and procurements.”

This is a big victory for Illinois’ fiscal good sense and Illinois’ environment. Let’s focus resources on better solutions for Will County.

Thank you for your thousands of petition signatures and letters to Gov. Rauner and other policymakers. The boondoggle proposed new Illiana Tollway is being ditched — as it should be. The Environmental Law & Policy Center and our allies Midewin Heritage Association, Openlands and the Sierra Club are proud of our very hard and effective advocacy work.

News: Federal Government Rescinds Prairie Parkway Approval and Groups Drop Lawsuit, Declare Victory!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

August 23, 2012

The federal government has rescinded its approval of the proposed Prairie Parkway which would connect I-80 and I-88 in Kane, Kendall, and Grundy counties under an agreement to settle a lawsuit filed by opponents of the highway project.

The action eliminates federal funding for the project, and the Illinois Department of Transportation will now shift federal funds previously allocated to the Prairie Parkway to improvements to Illinois 47 and US 34.

“After an 11-year fight, we have finally scuttled this highway which would have destroyed thousands of acres of prime farmland, threatened the Fox River and its tributaries, and forever changed the area’s small community way of life,” said Jan Strasma, Chairman, Citizens Against the Sprawlway (CATS), the grassroots organization long opposing the highway.

“We commend Governor Quinn’s senior team for focusing on resolving this longstanding problem and working with us and the Federal Highway Administration on a smart solution,” said Howard A. Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, which provided legal representation and guidance.

“This is a better and affordable transportation solution that will improve local roadways, create needed jobs, preserve community values and protect sensitive environmental areas,” Learner said.

Gary Swick, President of Friends of the Fox River, which with CATS challenged the project in federal court, added, “We are pleased that the project will no longer pose a threat to the water quality of the Fox River, and appreciative to all the partners who have worked for this decision.”

“For all of us who work to protect the natural resources of the Fox River and prime farmland of Kane and Kendall counties, we’re delighted with this conclusion,” noted Jerry Adelmann, President & CEO of Openlands. “Our thanks to all the partners who made this decision possible and to ELPC’s expert legal work”

The 37-mile-long Prairie Parkway was proposed in 2001 and received a big boost in 2005 when then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert earmarked $207 million in federal tax dollars for the project.

About $70 million in federal and state funds has been spent thus far on the Prairie Parkway for need and environmental studies, engineering, and purchase of about 250 acres of land along the proposed route. No actual construction has taken place.

In September 2008 the Federal Highway Administration issued its Record of Decision approving the Prairie Parkway project and its Final Environmental Impact Statement. This made the project eligible for federal funding.

Two area environmental groups, CATS and Friends of the Fox River, filed suit against the Federal Highway Administration, contending that the project review was inadequate. Attorneys from the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC), a Chicago public interest group, represented the groups.

On August 22, FHWA rescinded the 2008 Record of Decision. Based on that rescission, the lawsuit has been dismissed.

Joining these groups to oppose the Prairie Parkway and promote improvements to existing highways were a coalition of environmental and public interest groups, including ELPC, Openlands, and the Sierra Club.

There has been extensive local opposition to the project. Voters in five Kane and Kendall County townships crossed by the Prairie Parkway route voted to oppose the Prairie Parkway in advisory referenda in 2007 and 2008.

Beginning in 2010 IDOT cut the increasingly unpopular Prairie Parkway from its six-year Highway Improvement Program and continued to omit it from subsequent annual updates.

In April of this year IDOT shifted the former Prairie Parkway federal earmarks to adding lanes and other improvements to IL 47 from I-80 to Caton Farm Road south of Yorkville and to US 34 from IL 47 to Orchard Road. These two projects are estimated in the six-year improvement program to cost about $135 million.

Although the federal action effectively cancels the Prairie Parkway, the state continues to protect a 400-foot-wide corridor between the two interstates. The corridor protection, filed in 2007, restricts affected property owners from making improvements to their property without state review and approval.

A recent change to state law will require IDOT to conduct a public hearing by 2017 if it wishes to continue the property restrictions in the corridor.

In 2007 the 47 Plus Coalition was formed to promote improvements to Illinois 47 and other existing roadways as alternatives to the Prairie Parkway. Coalition members include: American Farmland Trust; Audubon Society, Chicago Section; Aux Sable Creek Watershed Group; Center for Neighborhood Technology; Citizens Against the Sprawlway; Environmental Law & Policy Center; Friends of the Fox River; Kendall Citizens for Farmland Protection; Natural Resources Defense Council; Nettle Creek Watershed Conservancy; Openlands; Prairie Rivers Network; and Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club.

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