Illinois Dept. of Transportation

Crain’s Chicago Business: ELPC’s Learner Says North Lake Shore Drive Design Should Have More Transit, Less Road

Wow! Here’s What North Lake Shore Drive Could Look Like
By Greg Hinz

After a couple of years of quiet work, city and state transportation planners are moving into a more public phase of how to rebuild North Lake Shore Drive, and though some fairly exotic concepts have been eliminated—such as bus tunnels under the lake and a light-rail line in the median strip—what’s left is eye-catching.

You might even say that Daniel Burnham-style big dreaming is back. (Any actual construction is still at least several years away, but there sure is a lot to talk about.)

The centerpiece of an “initial range of alternatives” that will be laid out in a hearing at DePaul University this afternoon are plans to expand and rebuild the Oak Street Beach area into a major new park.

Using lakefill, the beach would be reconfigured and moved hundreds of feet to the northeast. To the west of the beach would be an expansive new park running more than a mile past North Avenue, bisected by the new drive. Two versions of the plan feature a formal pedestrian promenade from the nearby Streeterville neighborhood to the beach, or a combined entrance for those on foot and on bicycles. Under either scenario, the current at-grade Chicago Avenue entrance to the drive would be replaced with an overpass, eliminating a stoplight that slows traffic.

The proposals—developed by the state and city departments of transportation, in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—eliminate as unrealistic the possibility of constructing a light-rail line alongside or in the center of the highway, or building express tunnels and/or causeways under the lakeshore or in Lincoln Park. Also eliminated is doing nothing except for routine maintenance. Officials say that’s inadequate for a roadway that’s now more than 80 years old and suffers on average three car crashes a day.

Remaining on the table are either expanding or shrinking the drive, likely with some lanes set aside for buses or other high-occupancy vehicles.

There’s a lot there, so best to look at the pictures yourself to get an idea. (You can zoom in on some of the larger renderings of the Oak Street Beach proposal here and here.)

If you want to talk to the officials involved and express an opinion, the full concept plan will be reviewed in a meeting at DePaul University’s Student Center, 2250 N. Sheffield, from 3 to 7 p.m. this evening. Or comments can be posted here.

Officials hope to settle on a final concept by 2020. Then they can try to figure out how to pay for it. No cost estimates are available at the moment, nor are details on how difficult legally it will be to build landfill into Lake Michigan.

The city also released renderings of other, generally smaller changes to parts of the lakefront, including possible changes around LaSalle Drive, Lake Shore Drive at Fullerton Avenue, the bike path near Belmont Harbor and other areas around the drive. You can see before-and-after renderings of those proposals below.

Update, 2:30 p.m.—Some reaction is coming in to the idea floated by the transit planners, most of it positive.

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly, 42nd, said in an email that, aesthetically, “The conceptual plan is beautiful. The proposed open space and new pedestrian and bike paths would be a major enhancement to our lakefront . . . this is an incredibly rare opportunity for any city—to be able to build a massive swath of new parks and beachfront while also improving a long-neglected arterial highway.”

Reilly also praised the plan’s proposal to somewhat straighten out the “Oak Street Curve” that slows traffic and causes some accidents, but underlined the obvious question: How much will it cost, and where will the money come from? “Pardon the pun, but the project budget really is where the rubber meets the road for this proposal.”

Also laudatory is the Metropolitan Planning Council.

“The proposed alternatives for Lake Shore Drive show that the city is thinking big,” Audrey Wennink, the group’s transportation director, said in a statement. “Lake Michigan is our city’s crown jewel, and this project will transform how people relate to the waterfront on the North Side. Therefore, it is critical that the plan chosen prioritize connections between neighborhoods and the lakefront, increase green space and improve transit, biking and walking.”

Somewhat more guarded was Environmental Law & Policy Center chief Howard Learner.

Adding more parkland is a no-brainer for the crowded North Side, he said. But Learner would like to see more transit and less road in the design. “The goal here should be a parkway through the park, not a highway next to the lake.”

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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.

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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, www.saferoadsillinois.com.

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.”

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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.

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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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Statement: Governor Rauner and IDOT Ax the Proposed Illiana Tollway

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Environmentalists Support Next Steps to End the Illiana Tollway Boondoggle   

Governor Rauner and the Illinois Department of Transportation have taken a positive step forward today by “suspending all existing project contracts and procurements” and removing the proposed new Illiana Tollway project from IDOT’s multi-year transportation plan.

“This is a key step forward to end the proposed boondoggle Illiana Tollway. This is great news for Illinois taxpayers, sound regional planning and for protecting the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie,” said Howard Learner, ELPC’s Executive Director. “Let’s focus the state’s limited transportation resources on much higher priority highway, rail, transit and bridge improvements.”

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