CHICAGO (AP) -
Chicago environmental groups filed a lawsuit Thursday to stop the proposed
$1.3 billion Illiana Tollway linking northern Illinois and northwestern
Indiana, claiming the Illinois Department of Transportation doesn’t have
authority to develop it.
Law & Policy Center filed the suit in Cook County Circuit Court on behalf of
the Sierra Club and Openlands. It contends that the Chicago Metropolitan
Agency for Planning’s policy committee erred when it voted in October to
include the tollway in its long-term development plan for the region, even
though its own board of directors had already derided it as an expensive
boondoggle and voted against it.
The lawsuit claims
board approval is necessary under Illinois law, and IDOT cannot legally
Department of Transportation is violating Illinois law by spending public
funds on the proposed Illiana Tollway,” because of the board’s rejection,
said ELPC Executive Director Howard A. Learner.
The lawsuit asks a
judge to rule that IDOT cannot spend public funds on the proposed 47-mile
roadway, which would link Interstate 55 in Will County, Ill., and Interstate
65 in Lake County, Ind.
Illinois Gov. Pat
Quinn and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence claim the tollway would help speed goods
by truck, reduce congestion and create thousands of jobs.
State officials say
private investors will be sought to pay most of the cost for building,
operating and maintaining the road under a 35-year deal, with tolls repaying
state debt. They have said it could take up to 18 years for the tolls to
start generating a profit, but the state eventually could reap up to $500
Even so, the
upfront public cost would be significant - hundreds of millions of dollars -
for land acquisition and other costs.
agency’s board of directors said the roadway would have minimal impact on
economic development and that toll revenue would fall short, leaving
taxpayers on the hook for up to $1.1 billion. Environmentalists and
landowners say it would destroy important farmland and wildlife habitat.
groups also have filed a federal lawsuit, claiming the Federal Highway
Administration violated the law by approving an environmental study that
failed to adequately assess potential impacts to endangered wildlife,
critical habitat and other sensitive areas, and was based on inflated
population and jobs projections. They also complain that the tollway would
lead to urban sprawl.