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To the long list of arguments against wasting $1.25 billion on Gov. Pat Quinn’s beloved Illiana Expressway, add this: “At least one lactating female northern long-eared bat” was found within the area that would be impacted by the project.
The mother bat — and the father and offspring it evidences — were cited by the U.S. Department of Interior in response to a draft environmental impact statement prepared by planners in Illinois and Indiana. Together, the states are planning a 47-mile toll road that would connect I-55 near Wilmington to I-65 near Lowell, Ind.
The Interior Department is worried about the long-eared bat, which could be added to the endangered species list in October. It also mentions the sheepnose mussel, the blackside darter, the blue-spotted salamander and assorted other species that are declining in population. It suggests revisions to the Illiana plan that would prevent common species of deer and frogs from ending up as roadkill. And it notes that the planned expressway could diminish visitors’ enjoyment of Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, a protected wildlife refuge.
Its most potent recommendation is to eliminate an interchange planned at state Route 53 in Will County. That interchange would handle truck traffic from the CenterPoint Intermodal Center — to the detriment of the Midewin refuge, according to the Department of Interior and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
All of this is fodder for the lawsuit filed by conservation groups that want to stop the Illiana. But the Interior Department doesn’t have that authority. Its comments are part of the process through which the states seek federal approval to begin construction.
Still, the comments ought to resound even with those who aren’t moved by the plight of lactating bats.
“The projected 2040 increases in accessibility, mobility, population, jobs and other parameters used to justify the construction of the Illiana Toll Road are very small in comparison with the No-Action Alternative, with both population and employment projected to increase by only about 1 percent,” the Interior Department’s letter says. “It appears that these changes would occur as a result of shuffling the locations of increased populations and jobs that are already expected to occur within the 18-county region around Chicago.”
Where have we heard that before? Oh, right: The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.
The Interior Department is questioning whether the Illiana’s very limited benefits justify the potential harm to wildlife. A CMAP staff analysis concluded last fall that the project’s very limited benefits don’t justify the expense of building it.
CMAP’s staff determined that the road isn’t needed and could end up costing taxpayers up to $1.1 billion because it won’t generate enough in tolls. Its board voted against adding the Illiana to the region’s list of prioritized projects, but was overruled by its policy committee after intense political arm-twisting.
That decision authorized IDOT to spend up to $80 million on engineering and land acquisition, on top of $40 million already spent. Bidding is underway. The project is barreling ahead.
Last month, IDOT released a “toll sensitivity analysis,” a consultant’s study that projects how much drivers will be willing to pay in tolls before abandoning the Illiana for a cheaper route. It came up with a 2040 base toll of 23 cents per mile for cars — almost four times what iPass customers now pay on the Illinois Tollway. Trucks would pay 53 cents per mile, and larger rigs would pay 79 cents.
Those are just projections, of course, but they are already higher than the CMAP figures that were blown off by the policy committee on its way to greenlighting the project.
Here’s why this is all so alarming: In this supposedly public-private venture, the public shoulders the risk. If the Illiana doesn’t generate enough in tolls to pay for itself, taxpayers have to make up the difference. If the truckers now clogging I-80 aren’t willing to detour 10 miles south and pay 53 cents a mile, the states’ private partners get paid anyway. Next on the endangered list: your wallet.
Full story here.
If you think you may be affected by the Illiana Expressway Project and/or are interested in a free consultation, contact our eminent domain landowner attorneys at 1-888-318-3761 or visit us on the web at www.landownerattorneys.com.
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