Preckwinkle, Environmental Groups Want CMAP to Drop Illiana

Virginia Hamman brings 4,000 petitions against proposed farmland-destroying tollway
Virginia Hamman, a property owner who would be affected by the Illiana Tollway, asked the policy committee to vote against the project last year.

The Sierra Club and other organizations intend to petition the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning to remove the Illiana Tollway from its regional plan, effectively disallowing the state from building the new highway. The deletion is possible because CMAP, the federally-designated Metropolitan Planning Organization for this region, is finalizing a mandatory update of its GO TO 2040 Plan.

The CMAP Board will meet on Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. to discuss the proposed GO TO 2040 update [PDF]. The award-winning plan lists all major capital projects proposed for the region. All projects, both highway expansion and new transit lines, must be listed on the plan in order to receive federal funding. Governor Pat Quinn earlier persuaded Metra and Pace to vote in favor of adding the Illiana Tollway to GO TO 2040, thereby shrinking their own available funding. Both CMAP’s Board and MPO Policy Committee will vote on whether to adopt the plan update at a joint meeting in October.

The plan update is an opportunity for the Sierra Club, the Center for Neighborhood Technology, Openlands, and the Environmental Law & Policy Center to make their case that the Illiana Tollway should be struck from the GO TO 2040 regional plan. The Active Transportation Alliance also wants the plan to drop Illiana: executive director Ron Burke told me, “Yes, take it out. We opposed its inclusion in the first place.” He added that what Active Trans said a year ago – a vote for Illiana is a vote against transit – holds true today.

Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle also submitted a comment to CMAP head Randy Blankenhorn, reiterating her earlier opposition to the project. She criticized the Illiana Tollway because it would require $250 million in taxpayer dollars at a minimum (but honestly up to $1 billion) to jumpstart the project, and that beyond that the state of Illinois would be responsible for any financial shortcomings. Preckwinkle stated, “it would be irresponsible of me to support a project like this that will compromise other, more fully vetted transportation improvements with greater benefits for Cook County, metro Chicago and Illinois.”

CMAP staff, though their analysis last year, showed that the new tollway – which would pave over 3,000 acres of farm land in Illinois and Indiana, plus dozens of wetlands and prairies – was highly inconsistent with the plan’s goal to focus infrastructure and housing investments in already-developed areas. The analysis showed that the new tollway would contribute to sprawl, which eats up natural resources, leads to less resilient communities, and perpetuates the high costs of providing services like sewage and transportation in exurban communities.

Earlier, the Environmental Law & Policy Center sued the Illinois Department of Transportation and CMAP over the project’s addition to GO TO 2040. The suit charges that despite the organization’s policies but because of state law, the CMAP board’s rejection on including Illiana in GO TO 2040 should have prevented the MPO Policy committee from even taking a vote.

ELPC was in court recently to ask the judge for summary judgement since, as ELPC attorney Andrew Armstrong says, “there are no issues of facts.” However, the judge went ahead today and allowed for limited discovery, which, Armstrong says, “allows the parties to request some information from each other about the suit.”

The board and policy committee will hold a joint meeting on October 8, 2014 at 9:30 a.m., in its Willis Tower offices, to vote on the GO TO 2040 Plan Update. To attend either meeting, you must RSVP with Ingrid Witherspoon.

Updated to clarify relationship between CMAP board and MPO Policy committee in regards to voting on including Illiana in GO TO 2040 and in the context of ELPC’s lawsuit. 

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