Sometimes our fight against bad highway projects feels like playing whack-a-mole. As soon as we defeat one bad project, another pops up somewhere else. Unfortunately, many transportation planners take a wildly outdated approach and look at building new highways as a panacea to all problems and appropriate for all situations – highways are proposed to reduce roadway congestion, to drive economic growth, and even to reverse declining rural populations.
The problem is, building more highways doesn’t solve problems, it creates problems. These transportation boondoggles encourage low-density sprawl development, which in turn requires more infrastructure, strains social services, and harms the environment.
ELPC fought this project for almost 25 years before winning. We actively participated in the stakeholder process and helped write and submit scoping comments that criticized the faulty population and travel forecasts, the failure to consider a no-build option, the overwhelming focus on highway construction rather than public transit options, and also discussed in detail the substantial environmental consequences of the proposed project. In June 2019, the Lake County Board de-prioritized this costly, massive tollway project and decided to focus their attention on better and more cost-effective alternative transportation solutions. The Illinois Tollway Authority agreed and stopped all efforts to advance the project.
In the early 2010s, the Illinois and Indiana Departments of Transportation began planning the proposed Illiana Tollway, a 50-mile tolled highway through rural Will County, Illinois, and east into Indiana. The project never made sense: the state’s own traffic projections showed a highway less busy than many downtown streets. While it was touted as a “public-private partnership,” the private partner would reap the benefits, while the public would have been left holding the bag when the tolls failed to come close to meeting the costs of the highway. The Tollway would also have had significant negative impacts on the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, a large conservation area that provides important habitat to declining grassland bird and other species. ELPC lead a multi-pronged legal, legislative, and media campaign to challenge and ultimately stop this boondoggle project. Due to our mounting pressure, including numerous op-eds criticizing the planned Tollway and two legal victories in federal court, the state has removed the project from its long-range plan.