A proposed new tollway, the Illiana, would stretch from Interstate 55 in Wilmington to Interstate 65 near Lowell, Indiana. Last December, the Federal Highway Administration approved the $1.5 billion project, but Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has suspended development pending a review of the costs and benefits.
The Illiana is a bad idea. Here’s why.
1. Productive farmland is a renewable, finite resource that must be protected. The people in the areas affected do not want it and no new “commerce” will magically spring up in this farmland. It is an unfair and major imposition on the people and topography, especially in Eastern Will County. Very few regular citizens are actually for this roadway, unless they have a personal, vested interest. Those for it don’t know the disturbing facts. Road builders will have plenty of work, repairing roads and bridges, statewide that sorely need attention. Farming is a necessary and sustainable economy.
2. A private, foreign consortium, who would run it, may very well lose money and leave — sticking the taxpayers with the incurred debt. The tolls will be far higher than other state tolls, presaging minimal use, such as what has happened to the now privately owned Indiana Tollroad, which has declared bankruptcy. Illinois would be on the hook to insure them their profits. State taxpayers deserve much better — as do drivers!
3. The Illiana is not the optimal way to deal with traffic congestion in this area, or to the north of us. It is disconnected from the rest of the Illinois Tollway system. It might have made sense, had it continued from Interstate 355 and Interstate 80 onto Peotone and into Indiana, if the airlines were at all interested in Peotone, which they have consistently been adamantly against being forced to use. The Illinois State Toll Highway Authority is the only really solvent agency in the state and has a good track record of running the toll roads. The tolls fund repairs and expansion, not foreign consortium profits. It’s very telling that the Illinois Tollway has opted out of assuming responsibility. A 75-year parking meter type “deal” looms ominously.
4. Building the tollway as a job-creating engine for depressed communities is a tired political promise that is never delivered upon. Depressed South Side Chicago and south suburban communities need and deserve revitalization projects in their areas, hiring their people. Does west suburban Maywood get an economic boost from O’Hare International Airport? Hardly! Realism not demagoguery. Money poured into the Illiana will not go to those who desperately need it.
5. It would not be located where it is without it skirting the unwanted and unneeded (by the airlines) Peotone Airport, although the Illinois Department of Transportation claims they have nothing to do with each other. Let’s not forget Mid-America Airport, east of St. Louis, which IDOT failed with.
6. It would cause severe upheaval to services, such as police, fire, first responders, bus routes, farm operations, etc., as there would be such limited access. Many north-south roads would be permanently dead-ended, including mine, the historic Egyptian Trail. This is real bad planning. Eminent domain, quick-take and landbanking are immoral.
7. It would compromise farming operations that remain in the area because of horrific pollution caused by diesel- and gas-engined vehicles and the disruption in water flowage and drainage. The Kankakee River, the only “clean” river left in the state, would be polluted. We are located on the Kankakee River water table – not Lake Michigan.
8. This has being fast-tracked by Illinois state politicians, who have shown a complete lack of ability to spend tax money wisely at all! Illinois is in dead last economic place!
9. No real local input was allowed from those directly affected by this project, which basically creates a Berlin Wall through Will County and into Lake County, Indiana. We’ve had our political voice cruelly gerrymandered. But we have a strong grassroots presence.
10. Recently, a coalition of citizens and environmental groups were able to get a similar IDOT road stopped, in northwest Illinois, which was also in the Second Tier, like the Illiana. So common sense can still prevail, as the overwhelming number of people affected by this are for the “No Build” option. Many state newspapers have come out against it and the whole country is crying — This is a corrupt Illinois boondoggle. Fortunately, it is not too late to pull the plug on the Illiana and use scarce transportation dollars more wisely.
Anthony Rayson is outreach coordinator for NOILLIANA4US, a group opposed to the building of the Illiana Tollway.