Illiana Expressway foes picket at open house
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain email@example.com April 16, 2013 9:45PM
Pastor Anthony Williams, of Dolton, and other local residents, protest the proposed development of the Illiana Expressway outside the public meeting at Peotone High School Tuesday, April 16, 2013. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 19, 2013 7:27AM
PEOTONE — An Illiana Expressway will disconnect farmers from their fields, school buses from their routes and residents from local businesses, opponent Anthony Rayson said Tuesday.
“It’s like sticking a Berlin Wall through the county,” said Rayson, a spokesman for No Illiana 4 Us, which formed in November. “Vehicles will whiz by so some foreign consortium can make money.”
Several members of the group picketed Tuesday outside of Peotone High School prior to an Illiana Corridor information meeting/open house hosted by the Illinois and Indiana transportation departments.
The Rev. Anthony Williams, of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Robbins, held a sign that read, “You Can’t Eat Concrete.” He called the potential taking of land and valuable topsoil for the expressway a “violent act.”
But Don Schaefer, executive vice president of the Midwest Truckers Association, said the road is needed “to get trucks off the most congested section of Interstate 80 in the Midwest.” And it will help truckers avoid the two-lane bridge over the Des Plaines River in Joliet, which is a “disaster,” he said.
Illiana Expressway project manager Steven Schilke said after 45 meetings with landowners, emergency service providers and school, township and road officials, the number and location of overpasses and underpasses on the proposed route has changed “drastically” since January. He said the Illinois Department of Transportation has been willing to work with landowners and officials to prevent the kind of “Berlin Wall” effect that Rayson cited.
Another meeting will be held in June for more input. In August or September, the final route and its alignment will be determined, Schilke said.
The Illiana Expressway would be a 47-mile highway, perhaps a tollway, that would connect Interstate 55 with Interstate 65 in Indiana. The road would start at a spot between Cedar Lake and Lowell in Indiana and run west into Will County south of Beecher and Peotone. It would end along the north end of Wilmington, which supports a no-build option.
Proponents say the expressway would ease congestion on local roads, improve safety, cut commute times and improve access to jobs. They said the $1.3 billion project would create 9,000 construction jobs and lead to more than 25,000 long-term jobs.
An initial study of the project has been completed, and a preferred route was chosen in January by the Federal Highway Administration. Now transportation officials must explore that route and a “no-build” option during a second study.
Tuesday’s meeting/open house in Peotone was the first scheduled for that second study, which will include detailed engineering and environmental research and is to be done in early 2014. Funding options for the expressway also will be explored, including a tollway and public-private partnerships.
A final environmental impact statement is expected by late winter or early spring. Land acquisition can’t start until after second study is complete and a funding source has been identified, Schilke said.
But members of No Illiana 4 Us believe the highway is being unfairly fast-tracked, said Rayson, who lives in Monee Township about five miles from the Illiana route.
Group members say widening existing roads and adding turn lanes are better, less disruptive options.
“We don’t think (the Illiana) is necessary,” Rayson said. “There are better, more cost-effective alternatives.”
At least one person at Tuesday’s meeting said he was undecided and was hoping to get more information before making up his mind.
“We need jobs, but at what cost?” asked Ron Hartman, a retired federal bank examiner who lives in the Will County portion of Tinley Park.