Illinois Department of Transportation

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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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.

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
Post-Tribune

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.”

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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.”

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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE  

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.

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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.

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