Press Release: ELPC Blows the Whistle on Departments of Transportation Trying to Stall Illiana Litigation


ELPC Blows the Whistle on Departments of Transportation Trying to Stall Illiana Litigation

ELPC continues to battle against the boondoggle Illiana Tollway, which would cost taxpayers an estimated $1.3 billion, undermine sound regional planning and harm the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. In October, ELPC submitted a statement to an Illinois federal court insisting that the U.S. Department of Transportation, Illinois Department of Transportation, and Indiana Department of Transportation should not be allowed to put the lawsuit on hold until it decides to re-do the Environmental Impact Statement analysis for the proposed tollway at some future date. ELPC argued there are no merits to the transportation departments’ claims and charged they are using it as a stalling tactic to prevent a final administrative action.

ELPC achieved a significant victory in June 2015 when U.S. District Judge Jorge Alonso ruled the analysis used in the Illiana’s Tier One Environmental Impact Statement “arbitrary and capricious.”

In October, the transportation agencies asked U.S. District Judge Charles R. Norgle for a stay of litigation until July to give the agencies time to do additional analysis after Judge Alonso’s June decision. The agencies insist that they will perform a revised analysis when sufficient funds are made available to IDOT. Considering that Illinois is tangled up in a budget gridlock, it is unlikely those funds will materialize any time soon.

ELPC immediately blew the whistle on the transportation agencies in a statement to the federal court filed shortly after the stay of litigation was requested, asserting that a new analysis would not change the facts at the heart of the case.

ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner, who is the lead attorney representing Openlands, the Midewin Heritage Association and the Sierra Club, said, “Defendants fundamentally misunderstand the purpose of a stay, which is to put a case ‘on hold’ pending the outcome of a development that would in some way affect the outcome of the current case. This common-sense purpose is simply not met here. The fundamental issue here is the foundation has been invalidated. Tier 2 of the environmental impact statement, based on Tier 1, cannot stand. And the defendants are trying to stall.

“The second-stage environmental impact statement at the center of the suit was an administrative action which the public is allowed to appeal through the courts. Later changes to the assessment should therefore not affect the environmental group’s ability to pursue their challenge. There’s no such thing as a semi-final administrative action or a quarter-final administrative action. Once a final administrative action has been made, as it has here, it is appealable.”

ELPC will continue to monitor the transportation agencies’ actions in its continued efforts to bring the Illiana Tollway boondoggle to an end.




The News-Gazette: Defeats take toll on road plan

If they keep driving nails into the coffin of the proposed Illiana Expressway, one day they’re going to have to bury it.

At least one would think so. But while the proposed expressway intended to link Illinois and Indiana has proved hard to kill, it is, at best, on life support.

The latest blow to this ill-conceived, unaffordable project came Tuesday when the Federal Highway Administration announced that it will not appeal a federal judge’s decision putting the plan on ice.

U.S. Judge Jorge Alonso ruled in June that environmental impact studies for the project were fatally flawed.

Alonso’s decision came about the same time that Gov. Bruce Rauner announced that the state did not intend to proceed on the Illiana because of “the state’s current fiscal crisis and a lack of sufficient capital resources.”

In addition to the lack of funds to build the Illiana, there was a distinct lack of need. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning estimated that too few motorists would use the Illiana by 2040 to meet the financial guarantees to the private developers, leaving taxpayers to make up the difference.

Because of that shortfall, the agency predicted the Illiana could end up costing taxpayers “from $440 million to $1 billion.”

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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.

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Pantagraph: Groups want hearing on Illiana tax breaks

SPRINGFIELD — A coalition of environmental groups and opponents of a proposed new toll road in Will County have requested a public hearing on a set of tax breaks being sought for the project.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center helped lead a successful federal lawsuit seeking to block the $1.5 billion Illiana Expressway. It filed the request Wednesday after the Lee Enterprises Springfield bureau reported that Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration is seeking sales tax exemptions for building materials used in the on-again, off-again project.

The tax breaks now pending before the legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules came as a surprise to opponents because Rauner suspended work on the 47-mile road earlier this year as part of a review of state spending.

“To move forward with these rules without providing the public a reasonable opportunity to participate in the rulemaking process would be unfortunate,” notes the letter, signed by the heads of 20 environmental and opposition groups, including the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society and No Illiana 4 Us.

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Crain’s Chicago Business: Rauner proposes sales tax break for Illiana Expressway

For the second time in a month, Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration has moved to throw an apparent financial lifeline to the proposed Illiana Expressway. But Team Rauner says things aren’t what they seem.

While insisting that the proposed south suburban toll road is still on ice, with all spending frozen, the Rauner administration filed for public comment a proposed rule to grant a sales tax exemption to construction materials that would be used to build the road. The rule then likely will be submitted to a legislative review panel for final approval.

Earlier Rauner signed a bill authorizing $5.5 million in spending on the road, saying the money would go for consultants working to wind down the project. That came despite an overall budget crisis that has left the state billions of dollars in the red.

Rauner spokesman Lance Trover said the proposed language headed to the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules “is required by legislation” and “is in no way an effort to revive a project that the Illinois Department of Transportation has pulled from its multiyear plan.”

Illinois Department of Revenue spokesman Terry Horstman said the rule stems from a 2010 law authorizing tax breaks for the highway, which would stretch from the Indiana border to Interstate Highway 55. Horstman said he didn’t know why it took five years for a draft rule to be filed or why it was filed now.

Longtime Illiana critic Howard Learner is suspicious. In a statement, Learner, who heads the Environmental Law and Policy Center, asked, “Given the state of Illinois’ financial crisis, why in the world is the Department of Revenue proposing to grant a sales tax exemption for the boondoggle Illiana Expressway?”

“It’s time for Gov. Rauner to finally terminate the wasteful Illiiana Tollway,” he continued, “and not create another new costly subsidy that Illinois taxpayers can’t afford.”

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Quad City Times: Rauner administration seeks Illiana toll road tax credits

SPRINGFIELD — In another sign the controversial Illiana Expressway still has a pulse, Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration is seeking legislative approval of tax breaks that could benefit the on-again, off-again project.

In a proposal filed by the Illinois Department of Revenue on July 10, the administration is seeking sales tax exemptions for building materials used to construct the road, which would connect Interstate 55 in Will County with Interstate 65 in Indiana.

The sales tax proposal, which is pending before the Illinois General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, is in a public comment stage through Aug. 24.

The 47-mile tollway has been a lightning rod since it was proposed as a way to reduce heavy congestion on Interstate 80, located 15 miles to the north.

Former Gov. Pat Quinn pushed hard for the $1.5 billion project to move forward before he left office in January. Rauner suspended the project earlier this year as part of a review process that is under way during tight budget times.

In June, however, the Republican governor signed legislation that included $5.5 million for ongoing efforts to develop the highway.

The project also has been the subject of a federal court ruling that found the Federal Highway Administration’s approval of the project in 2013 violated U.S. environmental law.

The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by Illinois environmental groups, which alleged the green light from the federal government was based on faulty information.

Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, was surprised to hear the administration was pursuing the sales tax exemption proposal in light of the federal ruling.

“I don’t get it. Why in the world is the Department of Revenue proposing to grant a sales tax exemption for this project?” Learner said. “It’s time for the State of Illinois to stop wasting money on boondoggle projects like the Illiana Expressway.”

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Chicago Tribune Editorial: Can we make it final now? Shred the Illiana tollway

In 2013, the Federal Highway Administration signed off on a plan to build a tollway not just in the middle of nowhere, but along the southern edge of a national wildlife preserve.

The environmental impact statement, prepared by the feds and state transportation officials in Illinois and Indiana, was supposed to answer some basic questions: Does the Illiana tollway really need to go there? How would it impact the people, birds and animals who live nearby?

It turns out the study didn’t answer those questions, though the highway administration approved it anyway. This week, a federal judge sent it back for a do-over.

Let’s not.

Gov. Bruce Rauner has already put the Illiana on hold as a budget-cutting move. But the project was a bad idea from the start. The judge’s ruling provides more reasons for Rauner to move the plan from the shelf to the shredder.

Approval of the environmental study was one of several bureaucratic hurdles that the Illiana managed to clear over the objections of conservationists and regional planners. The 50-mile trucking corridor would connect I-55 in southern Will County to I-65 in Lake County, Ind., passing just south of the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.

The feds concluded that the tollway was needed to stay ahead of an anticipated population-and-jobs boom in the area, to relieve congestion on local roads and to move freight more efficiently through the region. Never mind that the Illiana’s supporters had to shop around for numbers to support that argument.

The protected species that might be bothered by the lights, traffic and exhaust fumes probably wouldn’t be harmed, the study says, because they could just keep their distance from the highway.

Ruling in a lawsuit filed by the Environmental Law & Policy Center, U.S. District Judge Jorge Alonso called the agency’s decision “arbitrary and capricious.”

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Chicago Tribune: Judge’s ruling on Illiana may be Rauner’s ‘way out’

A U..S. District Court judge on Tuesday dealt what could be the fatal blow to the proposed Illiana toll road, ruling that the federal government’s approval of the controversial project was invalid.

The Federal Highway Administration’s 2013 endorsement of the bistate project was “arbitrary and capricious,” and in violation of U.S. environmental law, according to the decision handed down by federal Judge Jorge Alonso.

The purpose and need for the Illiana as outlined in the project’s environmental impact statement are the result of a “faulty” analysis, the judge said, and thus the highway administration’s decision to greenlight the project is invalid.

The ruling could sound the final death knell for the proposed 50-mile toll road through Will County. The $1.3 billion highway was intended to connect Interstate 55 near Wilmington with I-65 near Lowell, Ind.

Gov. Bruce Rauner this month ordered a halt to all action on the Illiana and scratched it from the state’s transportation plan.

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Crain’s Chicago Business: Illiana hits another major speedbump

A federal judge today threw a huge new roadblock in the way of the proposed Illiana Expressway, ruling that state transportation officials failed to submit a proper—and critical—environmental assessment of the planned south suburban tollway.

The action does not overtly kill the road. But it would require the preparation of a new Environmental Impact Statement, something that could take a year and hundreds of thousands of dollars, at a time when Gov. Bruce Rauner has ordered a halt to all Illiana contracts.

The decision came by U.S. District Court Judge Jorge Alonso, who granted a motion for summary judgment requested by plaintiffs including the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

The ruling held that the final EIS and record of decision clearing the way for the state to begin construction on the road “was arbitrary and capricious” and in violation of federal law.

Officials at the Illinois Department of Transportation were not immediately available for comment. But ELPC chief Howard Learner suggested in an interview called on Rauner to finally pull the plug.

“The governor has said the Illiana is on hold, at the least. This is time to bring the Illiana boondoggle to an end,” Learner said. “The court has said IDOT has no legal authority to go forward on this highway.”

IDOT could come back with a new, revised EIS. But that would take time and almost certainly the hiring of expert outside consultants, Learner said.

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