Friday, May 29, 2015

Killing off Illiana, once and for all?

Gov. Bruce Rauner put the kibosh on efforts earlier this year to create a toll road connecting I-65 in Indiana to I-55 south of Joliet, claiming the state’s financial problems are so intense that now is not the time for Illinois to move forward.

Integral part of transportation future? Or environmental disaster?

Yet it seems the people who despise the concept of the Illiana Tollway aren’t willing to accept that as fact.

A LAWSUIT WAS filed this month in U.S. District Court in Chicago, hoping to get a judge to issue an order that would prevent the road from ever being built.

The lawsuit was filed by assorted environmental activist groups. They want to claim that the path for the road from Lowell, Ind., west across the state line, passing right by the proposed site for a new airport near Peotone (another project that has lingered for far too long), and winding up near Wilmington would wreck havoc with the local land – causing particular harm to the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.

Which is a slightly different tactic from the usual arguments made against the Illiana – that the land is agricultural in nature and should not be permitted for any other type of use.

It usually comes across as the kind of argument made by a rural crank who is upset that metro Chicago is growing, and that some of that growth is going to be south of places like Crete and Monee, which currently are the southernmost edge of urban Chicago.

SOMETHING IS GOING to wind up filling in that rural space that now is unincorporated Will County (the far eastern part of the county that officials in Joliet and other west Will municipalities often forget is also part of the county).

Which means some sort of road through the area is going to have to be built.

Unless this environmental argument winds up sticking. A prairie could wind up having a more lasting effect than a soybean farm – or any of those people who built homes surrounded by empty land because living out in the middle of nowhere is their fantasy-come-true.

This could be a scenario that brings agricultural interests in line with the Sierra Club or the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

MY OWN VIEW about the Illiana is to realize the day is coming when Kankakee will be the southern edge of the Chicago metropolitan area. There will be growth and development in the area, and these resistance efforts seem so futile.

Besides, I’m also someone who has used I-80 to get from Illinois into the Gary, Ind., metro area and to come back to civilization – which means I know how ridiculous the truck traffic shipping goods to and through the Chicago area can get on that road. Particularly when there’s an auto accident or inclement weather that causes the backup.

I-80 is the current road that connects I-65 (the road from Gary to Indianapolis) and I-55 (Chicago to St. Louis). Which means the I-80 bottleneck is a drag on shipment of goods. Illiana is an alternate route for those many trucks passing through the area that don’t actually have to stop in Chicago.

Those people who argue against Illiana on the grounds that its route doesn’t enter Chicago are missing the point – it could help improve traffic flow in Cook County by reducing the number of trucks that need to come through here.

YET THAT ARGUMENT doesn’t seem to sway the political people. I’m sure Rauner’s own move that put the halt on Illiana development (Indiana officials made a similar move to cut the project right after Rauner took his action) was in large part because of the fact that former Gov. Pat Quinn was such a strong supporter of Illiana.

That could mean a future could reinstate Illiana. Considering how long this project has already dragged on, four more years wouldn’t be that big a deal.

Which means the Illiana opponents may now be placing their faith that a federal judge will put an end to this particular vision of how the southern end of metro Chicago will develop.


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