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. 

  • Kevin M


    Section 60.c:
    “The Board, in
    cooperation with local governments and transportation providers, shall
    develop and adopt a process for making the transportation decisions that
    require final MPO approval pursuant to federal law. That process shall
    comply with all applicable federal requirements. The adopted process
    shall ensure that all MPO plans, reports, and programs shall be approved
    by the CMAP Board prior to final approval by the MPO.”

    I don’t understand why this law was written to empower a committee over a board. I’ve never seen this in my experiences with boards & committees in various organizations.

  • ITE

    IDOT is presenting to ITE about the Illiana on Thursday at lunch at Maggiano’s Schaumburg.

  • Heh, I was at a lunch there on Monday for a completely unrelated topic.

    Will it be live streamed so the general public can watch what kind of BS IDOT spews about the “innovative” public-private partnership that saddles the state with most of the risk?

  • Roland Solinski

    It doesn’t. Board approval is a requisite condition before the MPO (committee) can approve a given plan.

    Sounds like ultimately both groups need to agree before a plan can officially be adopted though.

  • oooBooo

    South suburban politicians will be displeased. But actually what the Illiana expressway will do is speed the drain of businesses and people to Indiana. There is already an economic dead zone from Halsted street to the Indiana border in the US 30 corridor thanks to Illinois, cook county, and municipal governments in that order. So much of what was the economic life of the south suburbs already drained over into Dyer and further east. With the Illiana the dead zone could grow west and south of its current practicality driven confines.

  • oooBooo

    It’s amusing they would pick Schaumburg for the meeting instead of Chicago Heights, Beecher, Steger, Park Forest, etc… They should just have the meeting in Dyer or Schererville or Merrillville ;)

  • ITE

    IDOT’s office is in Schaumburg, so it’s convenient for the speaker, not to mention many attendees.

  • ITE

    Yes, the presentation and audio will be available via GoToMeeting:

  • Some Will County representatives oppose the Illiana and are planning to come to the Tower to make their case (again) to the board that the Illiana will be harmful to their villages.

  • “But actually what the Illiana expressway will do is speed the drain of businesses and people to Indiana.”

    This was “confirmed” (asserted?) by one of IDOT’s own studies, which I covered here:

  • That’s right. At first glance it’s a bit confusing. I’ve actually updated my text to clarify the relationship.

    Basically, the law says that if the Board disapproves, then the MPO Policy Committee doesn’t get a chance to vote. The Board disapproved of the Illiana 10-4 in October 2013.

  • Kevin M

    Ahhh, thanks for the clarification. Curious, are you citing another section of the law, or is that coming from the text I cited (and therefore misinterpreted)?

  • R.A. Stewart

    What can we do? Serious question. I know this is Illinois, and the standard operating procedure is that the deal is in the bag, but is there anything an ordinary, economically-pressed, time-crunched citizen* can do to help tip this disaster into well-deserved oblivion?

    *I insist on the term even though we are expected to be obedient subjects instead.

  • Paul the Fossil

    True. However the federal-state agreement under which CMAP was created designates that committee as the “MPO” under federal law meaning it gets final say. CMAP staff believes that a federal-state agreement backed by a federal law trumps a state law until somebody (e.g. a court) says otherwise.

    The folks who worked on that CMAP legislation a decade or so ago always knew that this arrangement was a kludge and, as some CMAP board members said out loud in their meeting that I just attended this morning, “we always worried about this problematic arrangement coming to a head.”

    The conflict with that state law is the reason for this lawsuit (which StreetsblogChicago reported on when it was filed in April, and which as mentioned above recently went into discovery phase):

    If the lawsuit succeeds then it isn’t clear what happens next. If the federal-state agreement which created CMAP is ruled invalid then…no more CMAP? Meaning no official regional plan which projects like the Illiana have to be voted into before they can be funded and built? I dunno, and neither does anybody else until/unless a judge issues a ruling. There’s no direct precedent.

  • Paul the Fossil

    Call your state rep and state senator’s offices and make it clear that you are following this thing and that it is an egregious boondoggle. IDOT can’t move ahead unless the state guarantees a pile of funding for it; they tried to get it included in the state budget over Memorial Day weekend but failed because legislators from around the state started asking questions. They will try again during the end of year veto session.

  • Roland Solinski

    The real issue is which voting body speaks on behalf of the MPO. If CMAP itself is the MPO then its board should be making the official decisions of the MPO.

  • What @paulthefossil:disqus said. The CMAP board and advocates are already on the case. ELPC is working the legal angle. IDOT and the governor won’t drop it, so if the CMAP board rejection route fails, then it would be up to legislators to prevent funding it.

  • Paul the Fossil

    That’s a different path to the same basic legal question: does the federal-state agreement [which designated the MPO] take precedence or does the state law? Damfino.

  • Paul the Fossil

    This reminds me, Steven you ought to call back Andrew Alexander over at ELPC. At today’s CMAP board meeting he read into the record the fact that during document discovery they recently discovered the proverbial smoking memo: an internal IDOT analysis from 2012 which concluded that the Illiana would never earn enough toll revenues to pay for itself. The agency simply buried that report and continued to assert publicly that they projected the tollway to pay for itself and therefore not ultimately require public subsidy. Indeed they continue to make that claim despite their own experts’ analysis to the contrary! I am baffled as to why none of the news media who have written about the Illiana are interested in this new fact.

  • Erica

    Is the meeting starting at noon? Thanks for the link!

  • ITE

    Thursday, Sept. 18, at or just after 12 PM. It sometimes takes a while to corral everyone into their seats.

  • oooBooo

    Well that just leads to what I always suspected, malice over incompetence. These people know full well what their taxation and regulation has done to destroy the south suburbs economically but won’t fix the underlying issues.

  • oooBooo

    I know where they are located. A typical NW suburban type couldn’t find a south suburb other than Tinley Park on a map. That’s part of the amusement.

  • R.A. Stewart

    Will do, thanks.

  • Paul the Fossil

    There is a new development, CMAP’s board has become more assertive regarding the Illiana:


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