Letters rattle landowners along planned tollway
By Susan DeMar lafferty email@example.com April 2, 2014 9:14PM
Preferred route for proposed Illiana Expressway
Updated: May 5, 2014 8:41AM
Some landowners in the path of the proposed Illiana Expressway say the state jumped the gun when it sent them letters, indicating that their property would be appraised in the next 30 days.
The project doesn’t yet have the federal stamp of approval, or “record of decision,” which is expected by May 30.
The Illinois Department of Transportation appears to be moving quickly to acquire the land needed for the 47-mile tollway that would extend from Interstate 55 near Wilmington to I-65 near Lowell, Ind. Plans call for the highway to be financed, built and operated through a private-public partnership.
Some landowners recently received letters from one of the 10 appraisal firms working with IDOT to acquire some 350 properties, IDOT spokeswoman Jae Miller said.
“This is just part of the appraisal process. We will not be making any final offers until we receive a final record of decision,” Miller said via email.
IDOT said it continues to buy land for the proposed South Suburban Airport near Peotone and has acquired 85 sites, totaling more than 3,300 acres, for $47.9 million.
The airport master plan is still under review by the Federal Aviation Administration and the environmental impact study is still ongoing. When that’s done, the airport will get its federal approval, according to IDOT.
The state’s effort to move quickly on the land needed for the Illiana Expressway has some nearby property owners uneasy. One appraisal letter, received by Virginia Hamann, a dairy farmer in Peotone Township, said the William H. Metz firm would be inspecting her property within 30 days.
“Over my dead body,” said Hamann, who’s leading the No Illiana 4 Us group in opposition to the tollway.
Hamann said she will not let anyone on her property without a court order.
“This is bullying and intimidation by IDOT, and it needs to stop,” she said, adding that the tollway route has not been finalized and there is no federal approval yet.
“I didn’t think they would appraise it until after they got the (federal) OK,” said Alan Brown, who could lose his home and 10-acre site in Wilton Center.
With depressed property values now, he will not get the money he could later for his property, which he purchased in 1990, he said.
The unemployed construction worker said he is having a “hard time right now” and doesn’t have money for an attorney.
“I would rather do it and get it over with,” Brown said of the pending sale of his land. “It’s been (talked about for) two years. It’s aggravating. At least my property is being taken. I won’t have to live next to (the tollway).”
Once IDOT gets federal approval, it will make formal offers via certified mail between June 2014 and June 2015, Mike Hansen, the ombudsman hired by the state to work with landowners, said last month at a meeting in Peotone. Landowners who want to make a counteroffer should get their own appraisal, he told them.
They have the right not to have an appraiser on their property, but Hansen said “many times it helps if the owner is there to point out certain features. The appraiser wants to see everything about your property.”
A meeting on protecting property rights will be held at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Peotone American Legion Hall, sponsored by No Illiana 4 Us.
If all goes according to plan, construction of the tollway could begin in spring 2015, with completion in three years. The cost is estimated at $1.2 billion, with a private company building and operating the toll road and receiving the toll revenue
IDOT has announced its list of four finalists that can bid on the Illinois portion of the project:
Illiana West Mobility Partners, led by Cintra Infraestructuras SA South America and Ferrovial Agroman US Corp. and White Construction as lead conractors.
Illinois Corridor Connection Group, consisting of ACS Infrastructure Development and Fengate Capital Management Ltd., and lead contractors Dragados USA Inc., F.H. Paaschen, S.N. Nielson and Associates LLC and William Charles Construction Co.
Illinois Mobility Partners, with equity members Fluor Enterprises and Plenary Group USA Ltd., and lead contractor Illinois Mobility Constructors, which includes Fluor Enterprises, Lane Construction Corp. and Granite Construction Co.
WM Illinois-Illiana Partners LLC, led by Meridiam Infrastructure Illiana LLC and Walsh Investors LLC and with Walsh Construction Co. as the lead contractor.
Meanwhile, there’s a pending lawsuit that claims the Federal Highway Administration violated federal law by approving the environmental study for the toll road. The suit was filed in July 2013 by the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center on behalf of Openlands, the Sierra Club and the Midewin Heritage Association.
It contends that IDOT and the Indiana Department of Transportation failed to establish the need for the road and properly evaluate alternatives to the proposed tollway. The environmental study was based on inflated population and employment projections and did not thoroughly evaluate how the tollway would impact state and federally protected natural resources, according to the lawsuit.