Illinois tollway directors approved spending $7.1 million Wednesday to restore wetlands in the south suburbs as compensation for wetlands damaged during construction on the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90).
Herlihy Mid-Continent Co. will convert 162 acres of farmland back to its natural state at the Forest Preserve District of Cook County's Orland Grassland South site near Orland Park.
Federal law requires wetland areas adversely affected by projects such as the widening of the Jane Addams to be replaced. Those adverse effects could include paving over or filling in land in the watershed.
The tollway is widening and rebuilding the Jane Addams between Rockford and O'Hare International Airport. Some of the wetland areas affected by the work include embankments along the toll road.
"We're going to enhance an area that's more beneficial to the public as a wetlands site than maybe a tollway ditch is," Chief Engineer Paul Kovacs said.
The project is coordinated with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Once the work is completed, the site will connect with the existing 960-acre Orland Grassland Preserve.
Asked why the restoration work wasn't in the northwest suburbs, environmental policy and programs manager Bryan Wagner said the Cook County Forest Preserve District took the lead in choosing a site.
"Doing wetland mitigation directly adjacent to the roadway isn't necessarily the best place for it," he said. "That's why we partnered with the forest preserve district to find existing resources out there and places we can adjoin to that help provide greater connections to wildlife habitat."
The Herlihy contract approved at a tollway committee meeting Wednesday will be voted on by the full board June 26. The work includes removing farm drain tiles, planting native species and building trails and boardwalks.
Also, tollway engineers updated directors on plans to build an environmentally friendly maintenance building near the Tri-State Tollway in Alsip. The $21.7 million structure will include solar panels expected to provide 50 percent of its electrical power on sunny days.