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updated: 1/11/2016 6:41 AM

Is the Illiana Expressway project really dead?

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  • Is the Illiana Expressway getting a thumbs-up or thumbs-down from the Rauner administration? An ongoing legal fight in federal court could determine the fate of the controversial road proposal.

      Is the Illiana Expressway getting a thumbs-up or thumbs-down from the Rauner administration? An ongoing legal fight in federal court could determine the fate of the controversial road proposal.
    Daily Herald File Photo

  • A train climbing up a frosty mountain trail, a locomotive chugging through drifts that tower over it, massive track snowplow. Those are some of the picturesque images the New York Chicago Railroad has compiled as a New Year's shoutout in its online "Trains in Snow" photo exhibit at http://www.nychicagorr.org/SnowTrain.html.

      A train climbing up a frosty mountain trail, a locomotive chugging through drifts that tower over it, massive track snowplow. Those are some of the picturesque images the New York Chicago Railroad has compiled as a New Year's shoutout in its online "Trains in Snow" photo exhibit at http://www.nychicagorr.org/SnowTrain.html.

  • Proposed Illiana Expressway

    Graphic: Proposed Illiana Expressway (click image to open)

 
 

Thought dead by many, the Illiana Expressway still clings to life in court, despite Gov. Bruce Rauner's booting it off IDOT's radar last year.

And that worries foes of the 50-mile proposed toll road linking I-55 near Wilmington with I-65 in Indiana.

"When the state of Illinois doesn't have a budget and is under severe financial distress -- when core programs for kids and schools are being cut -- why is IDOT trying to push this boondoggle?" asked Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

There's no pushing, Illinois Department of Transportation spokesman Guy Tridgell said last week.

The project "is on indefinite hold and no longer part of IDOT's multiyear program," he explained. "There are no plans to do otherwise."

The difference of opinion stems from a battle playing out in federal court.

Supporters think the Illiana will reduce congestion, diverting trucks from the clogged south Tri-State Tollway, and create jobs. Opponents predict the expressway will be underused, could cost taxpayers $1.1 billion and will damage the nearby Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.

The road received federal approvals in 2014 only to be set back last June when a U.S. judge found flaws in an initial environmental study.

Also in June, the governor said in a statement that given the state's fiscal crisis and insufficient capital funds, the expressway would not move forward.

But in court documents filed in late 2015, IDOT representatives said the department was committed to addressing problems in the environmental report and will hire consultants to conduct more analyses.

"IDOT intends to proceed expeditiously so that such firm is available to assist in performing the work required ... as soon as the necessary funding is available," officials stated.

"It's hard to read that any other way than saying they're looking for money," Learner said. "It's baffling."

Not so, Tridgell said. "No decisions have been made at this point on next steps. No funding has been identified or spent. No consultants have been hired," he noted.

I'd say the jury's out on this one. Got an opinion? Drop me an email at mpyke@dailyherald.com.

You should know

Had a bad airline experience during the holiday? Tell the feds. A little-known Federal Aviation Administration program lets consumers report problems and complaints at www.faa.gov/passengers/travel_problems/. We're not promising you'll get your money back, but venting is therapeutic at least.

Your voice

Reader Margaret Holmgren of Glen Ellyn was one of several reacting to last week's column on the state suspending its mailing of license registration renewal reminders.

"My car was one of the ones that got caught up in this scam -- and that is exactly what is!" she wrote. "I didn't get any renewal notice, as in the past, and when I realized my lateness I, of course, had to pay the late fee on top of the license fee."

Snow trains

A train climbing up a frosty mountain trail, a locomotive chugging through drifts that tower over it, massive track snowplow. Those are some of the picturesque images the New York Chicago Railroad has compiled as a New Year's shoutout in its online "Trains in Snow" photo exhibit at http://www.nychicagorr.org/SnowTrain.html.

One more thing

Hey I-PASS nation. If you've got a fancy new credit card with a chip and it's one you use for your automatic payment plan, check that the account number and expiration data is compatible. Sometimes that information changes with the card, Illinois tollway officials warned. To be sure, call (800) 824-7277 or go to www.getipass.com/ipass/LoginPin.jsp.

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