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Environmental groups sue to halt Illiana tollway

Updated: May 19, 2014 2:29PM



A pair of environmental groups are suing to halt development on the proposed Illiana Expressway, claiming state authorities haven’t received the necessary approval for the project they claim will expose the region to “environmental devastation.”

The groups claim the Illinois Department of Transportation is illegally spending public funds without full board approval from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning on the 47-mile tollroad that would connect Interstate 55 in southwest suburban Wilmington to Interstate 65 near Lowell, Ind.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday in Cook County Circuit Court by the Environmental Law & Policy Center on behalf of the Sierra Club and Openlands. It also names IDOT Secretary Ann Schneider, the CMAP board and the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Policy Committee as defendants.

An October 2013 vote by the MPO Policy Committee to approve its GO TO 2040 regional development plan with an amendment including a “financially constrained” version of the Illiana project violated state law because the amendment had been rejected by CMAP a week earlier, the suit alleges.

IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell rejected the suit’s allegations in an email Thursday evening.

“As we have stressed many times before, CMAP’s MPO Policy Committee clearly is the designated Metropolitan Planning Organization for Northeastern Illinois and the process of including the Illiana Expressway in its GO TO 2040 plan met all legal and procedural requirements on both the state and federal levels,” Tridgell said.

“The committee correctly recognized the importance of this project to regional and national mobility and we believe its wise decision to include the Illiana Expressway among its fiscally-constrained projects is final,” he said.

A representative for CMAP could not be reached for comment Thursday evening.

In a written statement, leaders of the groups filing suit said the Illiana project would destroy thousands of acres of arable lands and denigrate federally protected tallgrass prairies while undermining GO TO 2040, which Illinois Sierra Club director Jack Darin called “a good plan for our region.”

“When we make plans for the good of the region we need to stick by them, not allow politics to override them like IDOT did,” Darin said.

The single-count suit seeks to prevent the IDOT from spending any public funds on the Illiana project.



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