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Stop the Illiana Tollway

Stop the Illiana Tollway


Please tell Governor Rauner to kill the proposed Illiana Tollway and reject wasting hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers' money on the project. The road is bad for Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and bad for Illinois. Click here to take action.

Openlands is part of a coalition that is challenging the proposed Illiana Tollway – a 47-mile road that would connect Interstate 55 near Wilmington in Will County, Illinois to Interstate 65 north of Lowell in Lake County, Indiana. The limited access toll road poses a direct threat to a rich complex of state and federally-protected natural areas, such as Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, the Kankakee River, and the Des Plaines Conservation Area.

In return, the project will move so few trucks and cars that traffic analysts predict it will likely fail to bring in enough toll revenue to support itself for decades, if ever. While the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) bills this project as a "public-private partnership," the public would be on the hook for much more than just the initial $80 million budgeted for engineering work and to start buying land.  We would bear a huge portion of the risk of this billion dollar gamble  if the Illiana Tollway doesn't pay for itself, taxpayers have to cover the difference.

Illinois and Indiana deserve a better transportation alternative.

What would we lose if it were built?

The proposed Illiana Tollway would have severe natural, cultural, and economic consequences (pdf) for communities in its wake. The tollway would ruin, sever, and diminish thousands of acres of productive agricultural land, running through farms that have been in families for over a century. It would pollute high quality rivers and creeks and pave over wetlands, encroaching upon beautiful federal and state protected areas such as Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and the Des Plaines Conservation Area. If built, the Illiana would likely connect to Route 53 (also known as the historic Alternative Route 66), intensifying truck traffic past the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery and through the heart of Midewin. Noise, light and exhaust from these trucks would denigrate this globally significant U.S. Forest Service landscape by driving away wildlife (pdf) such as northern long-eared bats, a federally listed threatened species, and grassland birds listed as state-endangered that nest in the area.

What is the cost?

According to studies by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) and Metropolitan Planning Council (pdf), for a cost of over a billion dollars – possibly as much as $2.8 billion – the Illiana would do very little to alleviate congestion on nearby highways like I-80. IDOT and Indiana DOT say they may need $610 million in upfront state money to build the road, on top of the more than $80 million IDOT allocated to initially acquire land and move utilities. The public could be responsible for a lot more, even with contributions from private investers, especially if the exposure makes it another failed road project

The road would also undermine smart regional planning. In September 2013, CMAP staff recommended (pdf) that its Board reject the proposal by IDOT to add the Illiana Tollway as a major capital project to the region’s comprehensive GO TO 2040 plan. Staff found that the road and its impacts grossly deviated from the plan's core principles. In addition, IDOT and INDOT based the need for the tollway on flawed and irresponsible projections, rejecting wholesale the GO TO 2040 population and employment forecasts for the area. Instead of promoting sensible growth near where people live and work, staff found that the Illiana would relocate jobs from more urbanized areas into agricultural communities that want to maintain their rural identity. 

The CMAP Board agreed with its staff, voting ten to four against adding the Illiana Tollway as a priority capital project in GO TO 2040. Despite this strong opposition, the CMAP Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), which is dominated by IDOT, overrode the CMAP Board decision. The MPO voted 11 to 8 to write the Illiana Tollway into the GO TO 2040 capital project short list and add it to the regional Transportation Improvement Program. This inserted the massive debt for the Illiana Tollway into our region's precariously balanced transportation checkbook, touting the project as one we can and should pay for.

What is a better solution?

Instead of spending billions of dollars on an unwarranted tollway, IDOT and INDOT should reopen dialogue with communities at a local and regional level to develop a true network of roads and transit where there is a real and documented need. The people of this region deserve a comprehensive, practical and financially viable alternative that alleviates traffic congestion, facilitates future local and regional truck mobility, honors our agricultural heritage, and enhances the integrity and value of the natural, cultural, and historic resources in the area.

What is next?

Governor Rauner froze the proposed Illiana project in his first Executive Order (15-08) when he took office in January 2015, and directed his Office of Management and Budget and IDOT to review the viability and merits of the tollroad. As a result, IDOT is in a holding pattern on the Illiana likely until summer 2015. 

The Governor acted on the heels of the Federal Highway Administration approval of the Record of Decision and Final Environmental Impact Statement for the projects in December 2014. With mounting evidence that the proposed Illiana is even worse than the FHWA anticipated, Openlands joined the Environmental Law and Policy Center and 13 other coalition members to request that the FHWA reconsider its decision on the project. We argued that:

  • Contrary to assertions by the FHWA, the United States Forest Service, which administers and oversees Midewin, made clear its position that the proposed Illiana Tollway would create substantial negative impacts to Midewin, resulting in a "constructive use" under Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act. 
  • IDOT proposed including $400 million in no-interest federal loans as part of its proposed $1.5 billion in financing after Fitch Ratings, a bond rating company, told IDOT the project would not qualify for such. This creates a huge gap in the State's funding, which tax payers would likely have to cover in addition to the substantial initial project costs and milestone payments every year to a private contractor.
  • The U.S. Census Bureau's most recent county-level population estimates continue to illustrate that IDOT's Will County socio-economic forecasts were greatly overstated, unrealistic, and unreasonable. The 2014 updated population forecasts by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning reflect an even greater gap between IDOT's estimates and CMAP's initial figures, underscoring how much IDOT counts on wildly overestimated growth to generated toll revenue for the project. 

Throughout the environmental study process, Openlands and other coalition members commented in consistent opposition (pdf) to the proposed Illiana route and Route 53 interchange. Several agencies also cast doubt over the project. The Department of Interior analysis revealed inaccuracies in the Tier 2 EIS and serious impacts to a number of federal and state protected species. The United States Environmental Protection Agency shared the Department of Interior position against any interchange at Route 53, stating that it would have the "highest impacts to streams" (pdf) in the area.

It is unclear how the hold on the proposed Iliana project has affected the bidding process. IDOT and INDOT previously announced aIllinois (pdf) and Indiana (pdf) short lists of qualifying developer teams in early 2014, but never finalized RFPs (pdf) for the project. The transportation agencies initially intended to break ground in Spring 2015. 

Openlands continues to advocate for our goals of protecting the region’s natural resources and encouraging good land use planning. To learn more, read coalition Tier 1 comments about the proposed route (pdf), as well as about the transportation agencies’ failure to account for massive environmental and agricultural harm to communities (pdf) in the area.

Contact Stacy Meyers, Policy Coordinator for additional information at: smeyers@openlands.org or 312-863-6265.


Take Action here to stop the Illiana.

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