Illiana Spurned Again By CMAP Board, Faces Another Vote Tomorrow

Elliott Hartstein, CMAP board member, speaks agains the Illiana Tollway
Elliott Hartstein, CMAP board vice chairman, says the Illiana is fiscally irresponsible. Photo: Steven Vance

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s board again passed on the Illiana Tollway, keeping the project in limbo until another meeting tomorrow morning. The board overwhelmingly voted, 10-4, to strip the Illiana from a broader package of updates to the GO TO 2040 regional plan, and then to veto those updates entirely. However, CMAP board votes require a 12-3 supermajority vote to pass, so both motions still failed. The plan updates, and the Illiana, remain outside GO TO 2040.

The Illiana is still in play, and would be regardless of the board’s actions. Confusingly, it isn’t the board but rather CMAP’s MPO Policy committee that has final say, and that committee will vote tomorrow on whether to approve the GO TO 2040 plan update. They may make their own motion to exclude the Illiana Tollway from the plan before voting, or approve the plan update as-is.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center is even suing CMAP and IDOT to force CMAP to recognize the board’s greater authority. Board chair Gerald Bennett, mayor of south suburban Palos Hills, said today that CMAP’s bylaws require that the board and policy committee meet together, “to find consensus, to be on the same page.” However, acting IDOT secretary Erica Borggren went ahead and split the proposed joint meeting.

The four voting in favor of the Illiana represent Will, Kane, DuPage, and south Cook County (one of five Cook seats). One member, representing Chicago, was absent.

27 people spoke to the board imploring them to keep the Illiana out of the plan. Most of their comments focused on the burden to taxpayers resulting from the so-called “public-private partnership” that will build the road. IDOT has said that taxpayers would pony up a minimum of $500 million, with the first half going to buy land and relocate utilities.

The second half would be allocated as the first of many “availability payments” to the firm IDOT selects to build the highway. In short, the vaunted “PPP” is just another road-building contract.

Bennett said that any illusions that the Illiana would be a PPP are gone: “We indicated prior to voting last year that it wouldn’t make it as a PPP.” IDOT later admitted it would be subsidizing the project, he said, “so it’s no longer a PPP.”

Bennett pointed out that former IDOT secretary Ann Schneider – who resigned from office this year when Governor Pat Quinn cleaned house after a patronage hiring scandal – said her agency would “pull the plug” if the financing terms were unfavorable.

Elliott Hartstein, vice chair of the board and former mayor of Buffalo Grove, said that while “the concept of a PPP is a good thing,” the board doesn’t have clear answers from IDOT about the Illiana’s actual cost, whether to toll payers or Illinois taxpayers. He called on Governor Quinn “and his challenger” to “have the courage of fiscal responsibility” and to stop the project.

Mayor Jim Holland of south suburban Frankfort spoke in support of building the Illiana Tollway, saying it was needed to support the growth of freight intermodal facilities in Will County, and that the board needs to think about the whole region. Hartstein turned that point on its head, saying that the whole region’s best interest is served by axing the Illiana.

Kyle Whitehead, a campaign manager at the Active Transportation Alliance, said it wasn’t all about finances. He explained that the Illiana Tollway violates GO TO 2040’s “core principles,” adding “experience shows building new highways, particularly in exurbs, will lead to investment that will promote more driving.” These kinds of developments, he said, don’t lend themselves to efficient transportation options like walking, bicycling, and transit.

Virginia Hammon said that building the Illiana would destroy 175-year-old family farms and create a “Berlin wall effect,” bisecting communities and disconnecting through routes.

Paul Botts, a lifelong Cook County resident, reminded the board that events since their vote last year disapproving the Illiana have all “served to discredit the process.” He asked the board to “stick to your guns and take this thing out of the plan — again.”

Other items in the failed plan update include new estimates of project costs, and a recommendation to study the Chicago CrossRail proposal.


  • Coolebra

    All other important questions aside, does Will County have the water resources to support its desired scale of development?

    “Will County could be short as much as 14 million gallons of water a day by 2030 if development, including the proposed South Suburban Airport near Peotone, occurs as expected.”

  • Roland Solinski

    Wow, this sucks. It sucks doubly that the super-promising CrossRail proposal was sidetracked by Illiana politicking. That is a much smarter way to improve jobs access for south suburban residents than a boondoggle highway to nowhere…

  • BlueFairlane

    That’s an interesting point, and one I don’t think enough people in this region take into account. I’d be interested in knowing how they came up with that figure, though. Did they take into account the displacement of agriculture that would stem from this development? It takes about 350,000 gallons to grow and acre of corn, for instance. 40 acres covers the deficit for a day. You’ll cover the entire thing fallowing 14,600 acres of farm land, which is far less than what Will County has already lost in the last few decades.

    And really, when it comes down to it, 14 million gallons per day isn’t really that much. That’s about 0.4% of the flow of the Kankakee River.

    This isn’t to say that water is a non-issue. It’s just one that needs far more data than people in an eastern state like Illinois typically consider. We’re not used to scarcity, so we really have no idea whether we’re close to it or not.

  • Coolebra

    Kankakee River, when one could walk across it without getting his/her feet wet.

    There’s abundant reason for the region to better evaluate and monitor the relationship between water resources and development patterns.

  • BlueFairlane

    That picture certainly isn’t the norm for the Kankakee River, though. I have no idea when it was taken, what event prompted that, or whether that’s something that’s happened more than once since they built that dam. I doubt the absence or presence of the Peotone airport would have made much difference in whether Will County had water that summer. Meanwhile, there are places across much of the Southwest that have supported far more development than Will County’s hoping to see where the rivers look like that all the time.

    Of course there’s reason to better understand our relationship to water resources, and the biggest of these is that we have no idea in Illinois what the details of that relationship are. We’re not used to thinking about water, and we don’t even know what the numbers mean. Somebody talks about 14 million gallons a day, and our instinct is to think it’s a big number when In reality, it’s a nonsense number. That’s 21 swimming pools. When talking about water, that’s a margin of error.

  • Coolebra

    I’ve fished that river for a very long time. The picture is from the 90’s and I recall them rescuing fish from below the (Wilmington) dam, as the oxygen levels had depleted so much.

    You’re right, it isn’t characteristic of the norm; however, the image highlights one of the many pitfalls of relying on surface water for public water supply. Of course, there’s also radium and other contaminants that Will (and other NEIL locales) have to contend with in groundwater supplies.

    I think we’d both agree that the densely-developed areas of the SW hardly constitute a sustainable model for balancing growth with availability of safe drinking water supplies, so I’m not sure why that scenario is used to suggest something akin to if they can do it, using the power of major public investment to spur Will County development is a non-issue.

    As for study estimates, it is a rare study that finds development can’t be supported by projected water availability. Probably as rare as the EIS that finds a highway expansion is not advisable. So, the observation that any shortage at all was identified is interesting.

    In any case, there’s abundant evidence that our pace of development in many locales has outstripped our ability to withstand periods of extended drought. Lake levels at historic lows. Towns without running tap water. California’s Central Valley. The list keeps building.

    We need to get much smarter about water, and that includes getting a significantly improved understanding of water budgeting and applying that knowledge to how and where we make major investments that influence land-use patterns. It isn’t only water shortages, but also water quality. The proposed Illiana, for example, will be draining right into the Kankakee. Any idea what has happened to the chloride content of surface and ground water over the past few decades in NEIL? Look it up, and that is but one impact we don’t consider. It should also be noted that the Kankakee is one of the best quality streams we have, at least for now . . .

  • hello

    How can normal citizens best and most vocally show their opposition to this (public protests, phone calls, letters)?

    The Policy committee just approved it (big surprise). There is no way this project will be built for $1.3 bil, likely 3x that.

    Also, the only way the state was able to make this attractive to a private “partner,” was through a fixed payment scheme. Therefore, it’s not really a PPP anymore. The fixed payments are akin to bond payments…this is just a road project – an expensive, unneeded one at that.

    I would really like Rauner to come out strongly against this. I would then vote for him (solely on this issue) – I really don’t like either of the candidates.

    I already wrote to Kirk and Durbin. I’m sad that Kirk is for this – you’d think as one from “the other side,” he’d be against it. I believe, he thinks supporting it will help him get a new expressway up north in the future.

    It just goes to show, there are only two parties (or classes if you will) – politicians, and proletariat.

    End of rambling rant–

    **Bonus conspiracy theory! Did Metra make their big fare increase announcement today to hide their vote in favor of the Illiana (against funding for their own projects) and to just keep it out of the news cycle in general?

  • BlueFairlane

    And do you have any idea just how much agricultural pollution flows into the Kankakee off Illinois and Indiana fields right now? Pointing out that the Kankakee is one of our best quality streams just illustrates the many ways in which the central Midwest is already screwed. And pointing out the many problems developers and residents blissfully ignore in the Southwest just illustrates how much more screwed people are willing to be. Will County isn’t even a hundredth as close to the edge as people in other places are willing to go, so making the water argument in Illinois just makes people raise their eyebrows.

    Again, consider the scale. Nevada receives about 300,000 acre-feet (or, if you want, 97 billion gallons) from the Colorado River. Almost all of that goes to supply water for the 2 million people who live in Clark County. The Kankakee River’s annual discharge at Wilmington is about 3.5 million acre-feet, or about 10 times the amount of water it takes to keep Las Vegas going. And the Kankakee is only one stream in Will County. I’m not even talking about the Des Plaines or the Du Page or the water that flows from Lake Michigan through the canal, and I haven’t even touched on groundwater. I’m not arguing that Las Vegas is sustainable in the long term, but the distance between Will County and Las Vegas is so immense as to be laughable. The limit of sustainability lies somewhere in that vast gulf, and Will County’s nowhere near it.

    Also, this statement puzzles me: “… the image highlights one of the many pitfalls of relying on surface water for public water supply.” Are you arguing that we should depend solely on groundwater supplies? You have to understand that groundwater and surface water are inextricably connected, that the same precipitation that recharges surface water recharges groundwater. And in the event of a confined aquifer where groundwater isn’t recharged by precipitation, you’re dealing with a finite resource that vanishes as soon as it’s used.

  • Coolebra

    “Are you arguing that we should depend solely on groundwater supplies?”

    No, nothing I’ve written even hints at that.

    If anything, it was a veiled reference to Joliet’s effort to construct a 13 mile pipeline to the Kankakee in order to provide drinking water to its residents. As it turns out, they seem to favor — at least for the time, as it seems to go back and forth — a $96.6M project including filtering radium out of groundwater. Not quite the Colorado River diversion, but it illustrates water resource planning issues in Will County and increasing demands on the Kankakee River over time.

    I’m arguing for effective integration of water resource and land-use planning, and further that we more carefully consider the linkages between transportation investments and land-use change.

    You said it best in one of your earlier posts above:

    “This isn’t to say that water is a non-issue . . . We’re not used to scarcity, so we really have no idea whether we’re close to it or not.”

    That’s the point.

    Despite the acknowledged gulf of difference between the availability of fresh water in our region compared to the arid southwest, the gulf of difference erodes rapidly when we focus on the underlying issue:

    Failure to view water as a limited resource and plan accordingly.

    Folks can undertake artificial aquifer recharge, we can harvest rainwater, we can reclaim water, and try or do all other sorts of interventions to address water resource constraints; however, we can’t make good decisions if we’re not even analyzing the issue because we believe we have an abundant resource that can support us for the foreseeable future and beyond.

    Blind Faith: Great band. Poor public policy.

  • BlueFairlane

    No, nothing I’ve written even hints at that.

    The very line of yours I quoted suggests specifically that. Here it is again: “… the image highlights one of the many pitfalls of relying on surface water for public water supply.” I don’t know what other interpretation I was supposed to take from that.

    The biggest consequence of a lack of understanding water resources is that it allows sensationalism and fear-mongering, with people throwing around big, useless numbers and words like “radium” to try to scare others toward certain actions. This discussion started out with you citing a useless number somebody threw out in an attempt to stoke water shortage fears, when a cursory glance at the facts behind that number show it to be nonsense. You mention a pipeline from Joliet to a water source a mere 13 miles away that’s within the same hydrological basin as if this is supposed to be some ominous thing. We do need better understanding of water resources, because as it stands we’re not even debating the right things.

    Consider this. Your first assertion was that Will County can’t sustain the level of development it wants. Will County is still primarily an agricultural county. Agriculture uses far more water than residential development. Remember those dry wells in California’s Central Valley you mentioned? Those wells ran dry because of agriculture, which uses about 80% of California’s water. So if you really think Will County uses too much water, which is the better use for that acreage, corn or houses?

    I’m against the Illiana and the Peotone Airport, but you’ll only derail your argument trying to use a fear of a water shortages as a justification for not building it. There are far better arguments.

  • Coolebra

    “The very line of yours I quoted suggests specifically that.”

    No, I’m afraid not.

    Stating a hazard associated with reliance on surface water is not advocating for “sole reliance” on a different source — groundwater or otherwise. One statement does not logically lead to the other.

    Referencing radium isn’t fear mongering – not even similar.

    Writing about radium isn’t raising a false alarm or otherwise engendering unnecessary public consternation about water quality; it is a documented water quality issue that requires attention. To that point, Will County encourages water testing for a variety of contaminants; radium is called out as a specific potential concern.

    Presenting a question is not making an assertion.

    It should be noted that my “first assertion” wasn’t an assertion. Rather, I posed a question wondering what others have been thinking along such lines, anticipating few had considered the question at all, thereby underscoring the present state of affairs when it comes to examining interrelationships associated with regional development decisions. It just so happened that the article was about the Illiana in Will County. It could have been the Prairie Parkway. It could have been the ridiculous 30+ mile add-a-lane project between Schaumburg and Rockford.

    Water quality degradation in will County resulting from any combination of direct, indirect, immediate, and cumulative impacts constitutes an issue warranting attention in the Illiana context. On the the hand, the regional issue of scarcity of public drinking water is nowhere near ripe enough of a discussion to raise in formal opposition to the either the Illiana Tollway or the Peotone Airport.

    I agree there are many arguments against the Illiana and the Peotone Airport. Water quality degradation is one of the many, while scarcity of supply clearly isn’t.

    As you’ve noted, “We’re not used to scarcity, so we really have no idea whether we’re close to it or not.”

    We need to get our heads out of the sand and figure it out.

  • what_eva

    The lawsuit isn’t about the “board’s greater authority”, the Policy Committee *is* the final word on approving projects. The lawsuit is saying that the board must approve first. It says that it’s a chain of approvals, Board first, then Policy Committee. But if the Board doesn’t approve, then the matter shouldn’t go to the Policy Committee at all.


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