Lawsuit Challenges Validity of Illiana Tollway Authorization

Groups Challenge IDOT’s Move to Override Smart Regional Planning

CHICAGO (April 17, 2014) – Today the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC), representing the Sierra Club and Openlands, filed a lawsuit in the Illinois Circuit Court of Cook County to halt the proposed Illiana Tollway. The lawsuit contends that the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) has no authority to continue developing the proposed 47-mile tollroad.

The lawsuit against IDOT, the Board of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) and the MPO Policy Committee alleges that an October 2013 vote by the MPO Policy Committee to approve amending the GO TO 2040 Plan to include the proposed Illiana Tollway as a financially constrained project was in fact illegal. State law required that the inclusion of the Illiana Tollway first be approved by the CMAP Board—which rejected the amendment in a 10-4 vote just one week earlier.

The lawsuit seeks a court order declaring that the proposed Illiana Tollway hasn’t received the necessary approval to proceed.

“The Illinois Department of Transportation is violating Illinois law by spending public funds on the proposed Illiana Tollway, which the Chicago Metropolitan Area for Planning voted to reject for the regional transportation plan,” said Howard A. Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center and one of the Plaintiffs’ attorneys. “Illinois state law requires CMAP’s approval, which IDOT cannot legally circumvent. The Plaintiffs are requesting that the state court declare the agencies’ actions to be unlawful and enjoin IDOT from spending any public funds on the proposed Illiana Tollway.”

The CMAP Board, with representatives of Chicago and seven suburban counties, was following its staff report’s recommendation, which found that the Illiana Tollway wasn’t needed and would expose the region to financial risk and environmental devastation without any appreciable transportation benefits.

“CMAP’s GO TO 2040 Plan is the result of years of work by thousands of citizens and leaders, and it is a good plan for our region,” said Jack Darin, Director of the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter. “When the CMAP Board voted to reject the Illiana, they did so in the best interests of our region. When IDOT’s MPO Policy Committee reversed that finding, they undermined the GO TO 2040 Plan and they broke the law. 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 in the case of the Illiana.”

“The vote by the MPO Policy Committee—in defiance of the CMAP Board—was a politically-motivated vote for bad planning that destroys the integrity of the GO TO 2040 Plan,” said Openlands President & CEO Jerry Adelmann. “In addition to destroying thousands of acres of productive agricultural land and severing rural communities, the proposed Illiana Tollway would denigrate state and federally protected natural areas—including Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie—with noise, exhaust, and light.”

CMAP’s staff also found that the proposed Illiana Tollway could require a public subsidy of up to $1.1 billion. IDOT’s own studies show that fewer than 20,000 vehicles would use the Illiana per day up to as late as 2040. CMAP was well prepared to evaluate the project and spent years crafting a broad GO TO 2040 Plan, a framework for future transportation spending in the region.

Yet, the MPO Policy Committee, chaired by IDOT Secretary Ann Schneider, approved the project by an 11 to 8 margin, potentially makingIllinois taxpayers responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in costs not covered by the project’s hoped-for private financing.

ELPC also represents Openlands and Sierra Club in another pending lawsuit in federal court.  That lawsuit, filed in July 2013, alleges that the “Tier 1” environmental impact study for the Illiana tollway was legally inadequate, in part because the study was based on population and employment forecasts that differed significantly from CMAP’s.  Plaintiffs are filing a motion for summary judgment tomorrow, April 18.