Illiana Tollway

Chicago Tribune: Environmentalists Appeal Ruling on Illiana Toll Road

June 13. 2018
Environmentalists Appeal Ruling on Illiana Toll Road
By Susan DeMar Lafferty

Environmental groups filed a petition to ask the Illinois Appellate Court to reconsider its recent ruling against them regarding the proposed Illiana toll road.

According to the appeal this week, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Illinois Department of Transportation failed to comply with the language of the Illinois Regional Planning Act, which states that the CMAP Board “shall” provide its “prior” “approval” of a transportation project before final approval by the MPO.

Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, who is representing Openlands and the Sierra Club, cited several other court cases to support their claim that the word “shall” is mandatory, not discretionary, as the court ruled.

The Illiana, a proposed 47-mile toll road connecting I-55 in Wilmington to I-65 near Lowell, Indiana, has been a controversial road project that was shelved by Gov. Bruce Rauner when he took office in January, 2015.

Environmentalists have opposed the toll road project, saying it would harm the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie since the proposed route skirted its southern border, and calling it a “financial boondoggle” for the state.

In 2013 and 2014, IDOT sought to amend the “GO TO 2040” long range transportation plan to include the Illiana Tollway project and it had been debated by both CMAP and MPO at that time, with CMAP twice opposed to including the amendment in its 2040 plan and MPO supporting it.

Environmentalists filed the initial lawsuit in 2014, challenging the approval process for including the Illiana in the “GO TO 2040” plan.

According to the recent court petition, federal law requires that transportation projects must be approved by the MPO before they become eligible for federal funding.

CMAP was created by the Illinois General Assembly in the Illinois Regional Planning Act to ensure that transportation planning for the Chicago area is carried out in conjunction with comprehensive planning for land use, economic development, environmental sustainability and quality-of-life issues, the petition stated.

The act specifically states that the CMAP board “shall” first provide its “prior” “approval” of transportation projects and plans before the final approval by the MPO Policy Committee, according to the court document.

In the petition for a rehearing, Learner cited several cases in which the court ruled that “shall” means mandatory, not discretionary.

The Illinois Supreme Court is now hearing Oswald verse Beard, and that case should also define the meaning of “shall,” according to Learner.

“The Illinois General Assembly clearly intended to create a nondiscretionary, mandatory duty” when it wrote the Regional Planning Act, the petition stated.

On the other hand, the word “may” is used numerous times throughout the act, making the contrast “clear and easily discerned,” the document stated.

The appellate court “misconstrued the relationship” between CMAP Board and MPO and the nature of the GO TO 2040 Plan and the Illiana Tollway, it said.

“The entire purpose of GO TO 2040 as a regional comprehensive plan would be negated” if the MPO were able to push through projects “inconsistent with the other planning purposes of GO TO 2040,” the court document stated.

In the petition, Learner asked for a rehearing, or as an alternative, hold this request for a rehearing until after the state supreme court issues a ruling in Oswald verse Beard.


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.



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

Crain’s Chicago Business

Illiana Corridor Whacked Again in Federal Court


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.”


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


NOVEMBER 2, 2016

Contact: Judith Nemes (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.


Chicago Tribune: Illinois DOT Moving Forward with Illiana Tollway Project

Chicago Tribune

IDOT Still Moving Forward on Illiana Toll Road

By Susan DeMar Lafferty

October 8, 2016

The Illinois Department of Transportation is teaming up with Indiana to get the Illiana toll road back on track, according to a document filed in court recently.

A statement filed in US District Court Oct. 6 by John Fortmann, an IDOT engineer, said “IDOT is working cooperatively” with the Indiana Department of Transportation to address the environmental issues that caused the court to rule in June, 2015 that the Federal Highway Administration erred in approving the project, because the project’s environmental impact statement was the result of a “faulty” analysis.

The ruling was the result of a lawsuit filed by the Environmental Law and Policy Center, the Midewin Heritage Association, Openlands, and the Sierra Club, challenging the FHWA’s Record of Decision to approve the project.

The Illiana is a proposed $1.3 billion, 47-mile highway to connect Interstate 55 in Wilmington to Interstate 65 near Lowell, Ind., as a truckers’ alternative to Interstate 80.

It was suspended by Gov. Bruce Rauner shortly after he took office in January, 2015, due to the state’s budget crisis.


Chicago Tribune: ELPC’s Learner Asserts Houbolt Road Bridge Project Affirms Need to Kill Proposed Illiana Tollway

Environmentalists see Houbolt Bridge as Alternative to Illiana Toll Road
By Susan DeMar Lafferty

News of the proposed new Houbolt Road Bridge from Interstate 80 into the CenterPoint Intermodal Center in Joliet and Elwood was viewed as a positive step toward improving safety and relieving the truck traffic that has clogged local roads. However, some feel it should also serve as a signal that the shelved Illiana toll road project is no longer needed.

Environmental groups said the bridge — expected to be open by 2019 — is a key piece in improving the local transportation system, and a cost-effective alternative to the 47-mile Illiana toll road, that was to connect Interstate 55 in Wilmington to Interstate 65 near Lowell, Ind.

The Environmental Law and Policy Center, Sierra Club and Openlands, who have fought against the Illiana toll road in state and federal courts, claim it is a “financial boondoggle,” that would have “disastrous impacts” on Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery — both located along Route 53 — and other natural open spaces in that area, such as the Des Plaines River Conservation Area.

In a July 11 press conference, Gov. Bruce Rauner said the CenterPoint Intermodal Center in Joliet and Elwood, would pay $170 million to construct the new bridge and the state would pay $21 million to widen Houbolt to four lanes and improve the interchange at I-80 and Houbolt — money that Rauner said is in the budget.

Officials hope it will offer relief to the heavy truck traffic that has choked Route 53, interfered with funeral processions at the national cemetery, caused traffic accidents and prompted the Village of Elwood to launch a web-based public safety campaign,

The bridge project makes it “all the more clear” that the Illiana should be brought to its “well-deserved end,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center. “I hope Rauner and IDOT (Illinois Department of Transportation) will bring it to an end once and for all.”


Post-Tribune: ELPC’s Grosboll Warns INDOT Funding for Illiana Study is Bad Idea

INDOT in line to resume study on Illiana project
by Carrie Napoleon

Local officials and opponents of the Illiana toll road say they were surprised to learn the Indiana Department of Transportation plans to make court-ordered corrections to the first phase of an environmental impact study for the stalled project and foot the bill. In a court filing April 25, INDOT has agreed to fund the technical work needed to comply with the court’s order in Openlands Et al. v. U.S. Department of Transportation et al., which last year found the study was flawed despite Illinois’ inability to move forward due to lack of funding.

State Sen. Rick Niemeyer, R-6th, said he has been reaching out to INDOT for the past several months in an effort to get an official statement on where Indiana stands on the highway project — whether it go forward, wait until Illinois has funding or scrap the effort – but has gotten no response.

“We know Illinois is on hold. I don’t understand why Indiana is not coming out with a statement on this for Indiana residents,” Neimeyer said. “I’m frustrated I haven’t got the answers back.”


Chicago Tribune: ELPC’s Learner Warns Investment in Illiana Tollway is Waste of Limited Transpo Dollars

Indiana Tries to Keep Illiana Toll Road Alive 
By Susan DeMar Lafferty

While Illinois’ position on the proposed Illiana toll road does not appear to have changed, the Indiana Department of Transportation will fund a new environmental impact study to keep the controversial project alive.

According to a court brief filed this week, INDOT has agreed to “fund the technical work needed” to comply with a court order.

The $1.3 billion, 47-mile highway was intended to connect Interstate 55 near Wilmington with Interstate 65 near Lowell, Ind., as a truckers’ alternative to Interstate 80. The Environmental Law & Policy Center, Openlands, the Midewin Heritage Association and the Sierra Club challenged the government’s approval of the Illiana in federal and state courts last year.

The Illiana was shelved indefinitely by Gov. Bruce Rauner in January 2015 due to the state’s budget crisis.

Many thought the project was dead when a federal judge ruled in June that the Federal Highway Administration’s Record of Decision approving the project was “arbitrary and capricious,” invalid and in violation of U.S. environmental law.






Crain’s Chicago Business: ELPC’s Learner Warns Latest Illiana Funding is a Bad Move

Illinois, Indiana join in funding move to keep Illiana alive

by Greg Hinz

In the latest sign that the proposed Illiana Expressway still has a heartbeat, Illinois and Indiana appear to have reached a deal under which the latter will provide the cash needed for a key revamped environmental review of the controversial toll road.

In a document filed in U.S. District Court here today, the Indiana Department of Transportation said it has “agreed to fund the technical work needed to comply” with changes in the Environmental Impact Statement ordered by the court. That means that the Illinois Department of Transportation, whose funding has been limited by this state’s continuing budget stalemate, will not have to come up with money despite what the filing describes as “funding issues presented by IDOT.”

The filing indicates that repairs on the rejected EIS could be completed by the end of July.

Judge Jorge Alonso had ruled last summer that the environmental statement by IDOT and InDOT was “arbitrary and capricious,” failing to consider among other things a “no build” alternative to pouring dozens of miles of concrete through wildlife and plant havens between I-55 and I-65.

No exact figures have been disclosed, but it is believed that redoing the EIS is costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“The boondoggle Illiana Tollway seems to be the fiscal folly project that Gov. Rauner and his IDOT just can’t give up,” said Environmental Law & Policy Center attorney Howard Learner, who represents Openlands, the Midewin Heritage Association and other plaintiffs in the case. “Illinois has vital high-priority transportation projects that should not be diluted by pouring more public money into the Illiana Tollway.”


Chicago Tribune: ELPC’s Learner Raises Concerns over Proposed Great Lakes Basin Railroad

By Susan DeMar Lafferty, Chicago Tribune

Even though a proposed new rail line would not run through Will County, it is close enough that some county officials are keeping an eye on developments related to it.

The privately funded Great Lakes Basin Transportation, Inc., (GLBT) plans to provide an $8 billion, 278-mile rail line to circumvent Chicago’s hub from Janesville, Wisconsin, south to Rockford, into Grundy County, Kankakee County, and into Lake, Porter and LaPorte Counties in Indiana.

In recent weeks, the federal Surface Transportation Board has conducted public meetings throughout the region, seeking input and drawing lots of opposition from area farmers. Next, the STB is expected to complete an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), a two- to three-year process, and then decide if it will approve or deny the project, or change the route.

The route is currently just south of the Will-Kankakee County Line Road, so the slightest shift to the north, would place it within Will County.

Originally, the rail line was proposed to follow the same right of way as the Illiana toll road through southern Will County, but that project has been shelved. The proposed route is designed to bypass populated areas, allow for future growth, support agricultural and industry around the route, avoid attracting more residences or businesses that would limit expansion or be exposed in case of an incident, keep traffic moving through overpasses/underpasses, and to build the railroad as a quiet zone, according to the Great Lakes Basin website. A map is available at

“The unknown is a concern. This is all subject to change (pending the EIS). It will be interesting to see where it goes. This might not be the final route,” said Bruce Gould, director of Will County’s Division of Transportation.

He is especially concerned about a proposed rail yard which could extend eight miles east and west along the two-lane rural County Line Road, abutting Will County.

“Depending on what happens there, it could have a major impact,” said Gould, who attended one of the first public meetings in Manteno recently and plans to stay on top of the project.

If it becomes a freight yard terminal, he said he would be “considerably concerned” about what would be going in and out of the terminal.

Gould also questioned the need for this new route, noting that when the Canadian National Railroad took over the old EJ&E tracks, it was intended to be an alternate, faster route, circumventing Chicago. The CN lines have added freight trains through Joliet, New Lenox, Mokena, Frankfort, Matteson, Richton Park, Park Forest and Chicago Heights, and has been fined numerous times for blocking crossings.

Will County Board member Judy Ogalla, R-Monee, also attended the Manteno meeting because, she said, “People were asking me about it and I didn’t know anything,” she said.

Some voiced concerns that the current route skirts Kankakee State Park, and if there is a legitimate impact to the park, it could be re-routed into Will County, she said.

The Manteno meeting, like many others held along the corridor, was packed with farmers opposed to the project. Opposition groups have been created, including Block GLB Railroad, and Residents Against the Invasion of Land by Eminent Domain – RAILED.

Ogalla said she has heard the same arguments and concerns from Will County farmers when they felt threatened by the South Suburban Airport in Peotone and the Illiana toll road across southern Will County, two major infrastructure projects which are at a standstill due to a lack of state funding.

Financial feasibility is an issue, said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

Great Lakes founder Frank Patton of Crete is “putting the cart before the horse,” by going to the STB before getting railroad companies on board, Learner said.

“This is just like the Peotone airport. You can’t build an airport without airlines, and you can’t build a railroad without interest from rail companies,” he said, adding that several rail companies have already said they were not interested.

“It is not yet clear if there is really money behind this. That’s to be determined,” he said. “We have seen this again and again. Whether it was Peotone airport or the Illiana, they say it is only private dollars but they keep trying to get taxpayer support.”

There are other projects of much higher importance that need to be done first, Learner said.

Will County officials cannot let this project distract them from taking care of roads today, said county board member Bob Howard, D-Beecher, who called the Great Lakes Basin Railroad a “red herring.”

“This is just a group of investors taking the temperature of what is marketable,” he said.

“We have a lot of traffic issues that have to be addressed now. This is what we have to work on now. We have to get back to the basics,” Howard said. “If they apply for federal funds, they will be taking money away from us, and competing with us for federal dollars to improve our roads.”

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