In Southland in 2013, a year of building — and rebuilding
By Mike Nolan firstname.lastname@example.org December 31, 2013 8:18PM
November's strong storms and tornado caused damage in communities such as Diamond. | File photo
Updated: February 3, 2014 11:52AM
It was a year of building — and, for many people, rebuilding — in the Southland in 2013.
Some long-planned transportation projects, including the proposed third airport and Illiana Expressway, got a boost this year, while damaging storms had residents picking up the pieces of their broken homes.
Here’s a look at some of the top stories of this year.
While doubts remain about whether it’s needed or if vehicles will use it, the Illiana Expressway was endorsed in October by a regional planning committee, qualifying the proposed tollroad linking Interstate 55 in Illinois with I-65 in Indiana for federal funding. Private investors, rather than taxpayers, are expected to front the money for the $1.3 billion roadway, with toll money repaying their investment.
Another major transportation project, the planned regional airport, also moved forward as Gov. Quinn in July signed legislation giving the Illinois Department of Transportation authorization to find, like the Illiana, companies willing to partner with the state to pay for the airport.
Also, in September, Quinn presided over a ceremonial signing of the first steel beam for an interchange linking Interstates 57 and 294.
Gales of November
Late-November storms brought damaging winds and spawned tornadoes, with hardest hit areas including Coal City, Diamond, and parts of Manhattan Township. As they salvaged what they could from what remained of their homes, residents were getting a hand from other Southland residents who organized drives to collect much-needed basics for storm victims.
A few months earlier, in late June, strong thunderstorms brought drenching rains and winds of up to 75 mph, which damaged homes and left thousands in the south and southwest suburbs without power.
Quarry plans on hold
A controversial planned limestone quarry and mine in Robbins — billed as a significant economic development initiative for the impoverished village — is undergoing scrutiny by the Cook County Sheriff’s Department.
More than 50 homes would be bought and razed to clear the way for the quarry, and the project also calls for asphalt and concrete plants as well as a therapy horse ranch.
Metra chief calls it quits
On Aug. 1, Brad O’Halloran quit his positions as Metra board chairman and Orland Park trustee, facing pressure over the controversy stemming from the board’s approval of a lucrative severance package given to former Metra chief executive Alex Clifford.
O’Halloran had served as a village trustee since 1993, and a Cook County prosecutor was named to replace him on the village board.
Probation in water case
While federal prosecutors sought prison time, a judge in November settled on probation for Crestwood’s former police chief and former water department operator for their roles in a scheme to hide from state regulators the use of tainted well water in the village’s water supply. Authorities alleged water from a contaminated well was mixed with Lake Michigan water for more than two decades, and current and former Crestwood residents have claimed to have suffered health problems as a result.
Mall’s condition brings lawsuit
A receiver was named in August to oversee the daily operations of Matteson’s Lincoln Mall after the village sued, alleging unsafe conditions at the aging shopping center and seeking to have it closed. The shopping center’s owner was told to turn over money for repairs.
Prison escapee nabbed
After an intense manhunt that for a time focused on Tinley Park, police on Jan. 4 nabbed prison escapee Kenneth Conley in Palos Hills. He and his accomplice, Jose Banks, had fashioned a rope from bedsheets and other items to escape from the 17th-floor of the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago on Dec. 18, 2012. Conley was captured less than 100 yards from where he’d once lived years earlier. Banks was caught two days after the escape.
Other news of note
In February, a state review board rejected proposals from both Silver Cross Hospital and Kankakee-based Riverside Medical Center to build emergency medical centers in the Frankfort area.
Plans for a Wal-Mart Supercenter and Sam’s Club in Tinley Park are scuttled after Summit Hill School District 161 board members vote in October to reject Tinley Park’s request for tax incentives for the project.
A $95 million project to widen LaGrange Road through Palos Park, Orland Park, Orland Hills and Tinley Park gets under way.