Press Releases

For Immediate Release - Conservation Groups File Lawsuit Over Proposed Illiana Tollway Route

July 11, 2013

CONTACT:    Brandon Hayes
312-479-0819 (m)
(Media inquiries only)


***Suit Asserts That The Federal Highway Administration Failed To Adhere To Federal Regulations In Planning For Proposed Illiana Tollway***

(Chicago – July 11, 2013) On July 10, Openlands, Sierra Club, and Midewin Heritage Association filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois challenging the approval of the proposed route for the Illiana Tollway, a multi-billion dollar, 47-mile tollway from Interstate 55 near Wilmington in Will County, Illinois to Interstate 65, near Lowell in Lake County, Indiana. The Environmental Law Policy Center represents the organizations in the lawsuit. The complaint alleges that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) violated federal law by approving an environmental study by the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) that failed to establish the need for the road and properly evaluate alternatives to the proposed tollway route. This decision undermines approved comprehensive regional land use and transportation plans and threatens globally significant wildlife habitats such as Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.

“Building an astronomically expensive tollway with no demonstrated need and with extreme environmental and cultural impact is foolhardy,” said Openlands President and CEO Jerry Adelmann. “Openlands does not enter into lawsuits without extensive research and contemplation. We feel an obligation to raise concerns about this project, which is poorly planned and being pushed forward too quickly. The region has real transportation needs that are being addressed by the thoughtful, inclusive work of regional planning agencies, but this proposed tollway conflicts with these plans.”

About the Complaint

The complaint alleges that the FHWA violated the National Environmental Policy Act and other federal laws by approving an inadequate “Tier 1” environmental study for the Illiana tollway. The study was based on inflated and displaced population and employment projections and failed to thoroughly evaluate how the tollway would create regional impacts to state and federally protected natural resources. The plans for the Illiana Tollway conflict with the core land use plans and principles of planning agencies in both states—the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) and the Northern Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC)—the two agencies that are charged with developing regional transportation plans.

About the Proposed Tollway’s Impact

The proposed route threatens to have negative ecological, cultural, and economic effects:

  • It would denigrate state and federally protected natural areas, injecting noise, exhaust, and light into quiet landscapes that harbor threatened and endangered plants and wildlife, including globally rare places where grassland birds nest.
  • It could funnel up to 11,000 cars and trucks per day past the front gates of the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery and through the center of Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. The intensified traffic would drive away wildlife.
  • It would likely destroy or seriously degrade habitat for federally and state-listed threatened and endangered species, such as federally endangered eastern prairie fringed orchids and sheepnose mussels and state-listed endangered Franklin’s ground squirrels and Blanding’s turtles. The tollway could also unseat nesting bald eagles in the area.
  • It would pollute high-quality rivers and creeks and pave over wetlands, encroaching on protected areas such as the Kankakee River Watershed and the Des Plaines Conservation Area.
  • It would degrade and make uninviting recreational and cultural lands that attract thousands of visitors to the area. It would ruin scenic vistas at Midewin and its surrounding natural areas and intrude upon the Wauponsee Glacial Trail.
  • It would destroy, sever, and diminish the quality of thousands of acres of productive agricultural land, running through farms that have been in families for over a century.
  • It would sever rural communities while failing to address complex land use and transportation issues both in these areas and throughout the region.

“The proposed Illiana tollway route would harm important Will County treasures including the Midewin grassland, Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery, and the high-quality Kankakee River,” said Cindy Skrukrud, Clean Water Advocate for the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Instead we need a transportation plan that meets the population forecasts and principles of our region’s award-winning Go to 2040 plan.”

Founded in 1963, Openlands is one of the nation’s oldest and most successful metropolitan conservation organizations, having helped secure, protect, and provide public access to more than 55,000 acres of land for parks, forest preserves, land and water greenway corridors, and urban gardens. Learn more at

The Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club protects the natural environment and promotes the responsible use of the Earth’s ecosystems and resources.  Sierra Club’s Wild Illinois Campaign is focused on permanently protecting our last remaining natural areas, working to restore the health and vitality of natural areas already in public ownership, and on helping Illinoisans from all walks of life to learn about and experience first-hand the natural beauty and wonder of Illinois.  Learn more at

The Midewin Heritage Association promotes an understanding of the rich cultural and natural history of the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, along with those surrounding areas having an historical connection to this land. The organization assists the U.S. Forest Service in researching, documenting, recording, and preserving the various aspects of Midewin’s past, and promotes the preservation of historically significant sites, structures, and artifacts, which help in telling Midewin’s story to future generations.  Learn more at

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