Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

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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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.

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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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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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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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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Crain’s Chicago Business: Illiana suffers another big blow in U.S. court

The proposed Illiana Expressway has suffered another body blow, and this one could be fatal.

The Federal HIghway Administration moved late today to drop its appeal of a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Jorge Alonso’s June ruling tossing out the controversial road’s environmental impact statement and record of decision and ordering road advocates to start over. That action came as a bit of a surprise.

The agency didn’t explain its action, which came in a brief “unopposed motion to voluntarily dismiss appeal” that was filed with the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. But environmentalists who have opposed the road as a financial and ecological waste were ecstatic.

“The Illinois and Indiana Departments of Transportation should stop wasting taxpayers’ money on the llliana tollroad to nowhere that is contrary to sound regional planning and would damage the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie,” said Howard Learner, head of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, who served as lead counsel for several green groups who filed suit against the road.

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The Herald-News: State, federal officials appeal Illiana Expressway federal ruling

In yet another sign the Illiana Expressway project may still have a heartbeat, state and federal officials are appealing a recent federal court decision that ruled the federal government’s earlier approval of the $1.3 billion project invalid.The proposed 47-mile tollway would connect Interstate 55 in Wilmington to Interstate 65 in Indiana.

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