More gripes, worries about Illiana Expressway
By Susan DeMar lafferty firstname.lastname@example.org February 19, 2014 9:56PM
Dan Phelan speaks to Land Acquisition specialists at the Illiana Corrdior public hearing in Wilmington, February 19, 2014. | Allen Cunningham/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 20, 2014 2:21AM
More than 300 people showed up Wednesday night in Wilmington for the eighth public meeting on the proposed Illiana Expressway, a toll road that would connect Interstate 57 near Wilmington with Interstate 65 near Lowell, Ind.
Opponents far outnumbered supporters at the hearing. Those whose property lies in the path of the tollway talked with staff from the Illinois Department of Transportation, while others perused detailed maps of the preferred route, interchanges and closed roads. Many questioned the need for the 47-mile highway.
One of the 11 interchanges will be at Riley Road to avoid Illinois 53 (which also is the historic U.S. 66) and be on what’s now the Riley farm. That means Rachel Riley, the last of her family, will lose 75 percent of the farm on which she grew up and that originally was owned by her grandfather along the road that bears the family name.
“That is very, very valuable farm land in this area,” she said. “It produced 192 bushels of corn per acre last year. The road will take away a great deal of livelihood.
“I should be allowed to cut the ribbon,” Riley said with a laugh, “but I hope there is no ribbon to cut.”
Riley was not the only one decrying the loss of valuable farmland. Peotone farmer Virginia Hamann, of the No Illiana 4 Us group, said the Illiana Expressway would destroy one-third of Will County’s centennial farms — those that have been farmed for more than 100 years. One of the group’s signs noted, “You can’t eat concrete.”
Impacted property owners were concerned about when they would have to move and how much they would get for their property, but overriding that was the fear of being left in limbo. Many wondered: What if the state buys their property and the tollway does not get built?
Glen Ginder, a Will Township trustee, wanted to know how much land would be taken off the property tax rolls.
“How much money will we lose? We’re a small township. This is a big jolt to us,” he said, adding that the township already has lost tax revenue from when land was purchased by the state for the planned South Suburban Airport near Peotone.
Kim Keslik, who lives outside Wilmington on a wooded 10-acre site, thought she was losing her “dream home,” but after talking to staff, she discovered that the highway’s route had been moved north of her house. That only angered her husband, who felt they would be worse off living with the highway and a potential loss of property value. There will be no sound walls built along the Illiana, they learned.
“I was furious at first,” said Keith Skoryi, whose home in Wilmington would be within 15 feet of the tollway. “I wish they would take all or nothing. I don’t have to be happy about this, but I do hope they are fair. They have been nice so far, but when it gets down to the nitty gritty, we’ll see how nice they will be.”
Among those making comments on the record was Andrew Armstrong, an attorney with the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center.
“We will be litigating vigorously to stop this financial boondoggle,” he said, adding that the numbers used by IDOT to justify the road were exaggerated.
But John Grueling, chief executive of the Will County Center for Economical Development, said IDOT is factoring in future growth.
“This is one of the fastest-growing counties in the state,” he said, and the Illiana Expressway is a “critical” road for an area that faces many transportation challenges.
IDOT’s forecast for regional growth does not factor in the proposed airport but takes into account the large train-truck transfer centers in Will County, which have substantially increased truck traffic on I-80 and other roads, said Grueling, who “eagerly supports” the Illiana project.
IDOT project manager Steve Schilke said Interstate 80 cannot meet the demands of future truck traffic. The Illiana Expressway will be a major truck route, with 40 percent to 50 percent of its traffic being trucks, he said.
The tollway would generate roughly $1 billion in wages and $3.7 billion in economic output over 30 years and save truckers about $1 million per day, Schilke said.
The next step is to finalize the route of the tollway, which still could be altered slightly, and then seek federal approval of the project. If that’s received, land acquisition would begin. The earliest construction would start would be 2015, with completion in 2018.
To be realized, the Illiana Expressway depends on a public-private partnership being created. IDOT will cover the costs of land acquisition and utility relocation, with private investors financing the estimated $1.5 billion cost of the toll road and paying to maintain it for 35 years, Schilke said. Each state is seeking investors.
The state would pay the investment group back over 35 years, with some of that revenue coming from tolls. The toll rate has not yet been determined, Schilke said, but would be set by the states, not the private investors. He said the tolls would be consistent across the two states.
March 10 is the last day to submit public comment regarding the tollway at www.IllianaCorridor.org.