The Illiana’s Latest Death Blow: Feds Dropping Their Appeal of Court Ruling

Photo of the then-recently opened I-355, 127th St overpass
The Illiana’s high tolls would have driven motorists to use other routes instead. Photo: Tim Messer

A new legal development may represent the final nail in the coffin for the wasteful, destructive Illiana Tollway project. Yesterday, the Federal Highway Administration dropped its appeal of the court ruling that invalidated the Illiana’s key supporting document.

Back in June, U.S. District Court Judge Jorge Alonso invalidated the tollway’s Environmental Impact Statement, calling it “arbitrary and capricious.” The EIS was jointly prepared by the Illinois and Indiana departments of transportation.

Alonso noted then that the FHWA shouldn’t have approved the EIS because the tollway’s purpose and need statement was based on “market-driven forecasts developed by [Illinois Department of Transportation] consultants,” rather than sound policy. The Illiana was a terrible idea that was heavily promoted by former Illinois governor Pat Quinn and state representatives from the south suburbs.

Illinois taxpayers would have been on the hook for a $500 million down payment for the tollway. They also would have been responsible for future payments to the private operator in the event that revenue from tolls came up short. One of IDOT’s studies showed that the Illiana’s tolls would be several times higher than those on other Illinois tollways, which would cause many drivers to opt for non-tolled roads in the same corridor instead.

The highway would have destroyed protected natural areas and heritage farmland. It also would have induced sprawl to new areas outside of the current Chicago metro region.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center filed the original lawsuit against the tollway. ELPC executive director Howard Learner told Crain’s yesterday that the Illinois or Indiana transportation departments could file their own appeal of Alonso’s ruling. However, he said IDOT and INDOT would “look rather silly” supporting a project that the federal government appears to have given up on.

The FHWA move to drop their appeal joins a growing list of developments that have suggested the Illiana project is dead in the water. In early June, current Illinois governor Bruce Rauner ordered IDOT to suspend all existing contracts and procurements for the tollway, stating in a news release that “the project costs exceed currently available resources.” He also told IDOT to remove the Illiana from its current multi-year transportation plan.

The tollway still included on a list of high priority projects maintained by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s board and policy committee. That, along with the fact that Rauner hasn’t officially killed the Illiana, means the project could conceivably be resurrected if IDOT drafts a new, satisfactory Environmental Impact Statement. Therefore, it’s still too soon to relegate this ill-conceived highway plan to the dustbin of history.

  • R.A. Stewart

    Agree with your last paragraph. The last nail may be in the coffin, but this
    thing needs to have a stake driven through its heart, garlic stuffed in its mouth, its head cut off, and to be buried face down in unconsecrated ground at the intersection of two bicycle paths. Even then we’d need to keep an eye on it.

    To American DOTs and the sprawl and highway lobbies (different bodies sharing one soul, as when the docs diagnosed Officers Toody and Muldoon with “monobiopsychosis”), all the things that make it a terrible idea

    –“Illinois taxpayers would have been on the hook for a $500 million down payment … They also would have been responsible for future payments
    to the private operator in the event that revenue from tolls came up
    short.”

    –“The highway would have destroyed protected natural areas and heritage farmland. It also would have induced sprawl to new areas …”

    seem to be, if anything, points in its favor.

  • R.A. Stewart

    On a less cynical note, thanks for mentioning “heritage farmland.” I agree with all the other objections to this misbegotten project and to sprawl and pezodromomania* generally, but have sometimes felt like a voice in the wilderness when pointing out that, along with everything else, we have spent the entire post-war era** permanently destroying (or at least damaging to the point where reclamation would be very difficult and expensive, and probably never complete), by the millions of acres, some of the best agricultural land on earth. It is, without exaggerating, insane.

    *Pavement madness. Hey, if Gary Larson can invent anatidaephobia

    **I suppose I am showing my age here. People too young to remember the two decades or so after World War II can be excused for asking “What’s a post-war era?”.

  • Anne A

    “People too young to remember the two decades or so after World War II can be excused for asking ‘What’s a post-war era?’.”

    Younger people who grew up with the interstate system well established may not have any concept of it.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Rauner Authorizes More Illiana Spending to “Wind Down” Project

|
Governor Bruce Rauner signed a bill last week that authorizes spending $5.5 million more on the Illiana Tollway, a month after he announced he was suspending the project. The Illiana would have been a new highway a couple miles south of the existing Chicago metropolitan region that would have encouraged suburban sprawl. Tolls would have been […]

Could Rauner Stop the Illiana Boondoggle? Sure. But Will He?

|
The Illiana Tollway, a joint proposal by the Illinois and Indiana departments of transportation to build a 47-mile highway through thinly populated farmland about 40 miles south of Chicago, rolled over another hurdle yesterday when the Federal Highway Administration approved the project’s environmental impact study. FHWA’s approval allows IDOT and InDOT to proceed with soliciting bids for […]

Seven Ways to Stop The Illiana Boondoggle

|
Two votes yesterday by a committee of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, Chicagoland’s federally-designated regional planning organization, have cemented CMAP’s approval of the sprawl-inducing, budget-busting Illiana Tollway. Since federal transportation dollars can only be spent on projects included in an adopted regional plan, this gives Governor Pat Quinn and the Illinois Department of Transportation the consent […]