Proposed Illiana Tollway Defeated in Federal Court

June 17, 2015

Our region scored a big victory when a federal court shot down approval for the Illiana Tollway on June 16. It reaffirmed the power of our citizens and our communities to hold transportation agencies accountable for their actions. It means that the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration must consider how projects like the Illiana Tollway affect our region’s collective GO TO 2040 plan. They need to genuinely assess how their projects would impact natural and cultural treasures like Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. 

The federal judge in the first of our three lawsuits rejected the transportation agencies’ first environmental study and decision to pursue the Illiana as fatally flawed for three big reasons:

  1. The transportation agencies used circular logic to inflate the perceived need for the Illiana tollway. The agencies never compared how and where the region would grow and where we would see traffic problems with and without the tollway. The assessment counted on the same growth and traffic whether or not the road were built. 
  2. The skewed projections tainted the transportation agencies study of how increased traffic and growth – and the road itself – would harm Midewin, destroy generational farms, and burden local communities with new and unnecessary costs. 
  3. The transportation agencies consciously rejected our region’s long-range comprehensive plan and never attempted to reconcile its project with the region’s collective principles and vision for our future.

“This is a landmark federal case that recognizes that transportation agencies need to give credence to long range regional planning like our regional GO TO 2040 plan and do their best to reconcile projects with our region’s collective vision,” said Openlands President and CEO Jerry Adelmann. “The proposed Illiana Tollway was out of step with this vision. This is yet another win that opens the door for a much better transportation solution for everyone—our farms, our communities, our industries, and our natural treasures.”

Governor Rauner and the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) have already cancelled plans to move forward with the Illiana tollway. The decision makes it harder and much more costly to revive the Illiana down the line, since IDOT would have to pay for and conduct a genuine study of the project’s destructive impacts on our region.

The tollway has been shelved by Governor Rauner and IDOT. Its planning process has been judged fatally flawed. But the work is still not over. Openlands will continue to work with our partners in the lawsuit – Sierra Club Illinois and Midewin Heritage Association – our counsel, the Environmental Law and Policy Center, and the dozens of organizations and communities that care about this issue until the Illiana is truly dismantled and replaced with a solution that honors our region’s natural and cultural heritage.

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