Kane County Board lays groundwork for tolls on Longmeadow Parkway

By Jim Fuller
Updated 9/11/2018 8:43 PM

Even as Kane County officials inched Tuesday toward building a toll bridge to complete the Longmeadow Parkway, opposition to the project was developing its strategy.

The county board approved a memo of understanding with the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority. The memo lays the groundwork for the authority to collect tolls and enforce toll violations on the county's behalf.

Though there was optimism that outside funding might eliminate the need for a toll, the plan still calls for tolls to repay about $30 million in bonds needed for bridge construction and maintenance. Most of the construction, except for the bridge, is near completion. But the toll collection is one of the most unpopular parts of the plan, even among those who support the parkway.

Chris Kious, a candidate for the District 23 county board seat, reminded the board of that unpopularity before the vote.

"The vast majority of residents in District 23 are not in favor of one or more aspects of the project," Kious said. "Nearly all see the need for better east-to-west transportation. Nearly all oppose funding it with a toll. We are going to be unfairly burdened with a tax that is not required over any other span on the Fox River in Kane County. And the tax will be at least a 30-year burden that may never end. I would not want this toll to be what I would be remembered for."

Despite the plea, county board member Jarett Sanchez was the lone "no" vote on the memo. Sanchez said there have been many political pledges about tolls sunsetting in Illinois over the years.

"It hasn't happened yet," Sanchez said. "Let's keep an eye on this and make sure we can get rid of that toll one day."

Sanchez won election to the board on the support of area residents affected by the construction of the parkway on the far north end of the county. An organized group of those opponents, known as Stop Longmeadow, has tried to halt construction through the courts. It has a lawsuit pending against the county. But earlier this month, the group acknowledged in an email to its members that it is time to refocus the effort.

Stop Longmeadow spokeswoman Jo Ann Fritz said a letter sent to group members on Sept. 1 encapsulates the new focus of the opposition.

"A lot of destruction has already taken place, and the judge threw out our complaints regarding the Kane County Board's procedures regarding the project," the letter states. "What remains is the No. 1 strongest case -- the endangered Rusty Patch Bee. We may not be able to stop (Longmeadow), but we can set a precedent for the future and ensure future environmental protections that would prohibit the reckless behavior of the current county board and forest preserve."

The group won a temporary injunction against the project in April 2017 with the discovery of Rusty Patch Bee within the construction footprint. The bee is a recent addition to the endangered species list. The judge allowed the project to proceed later that month when opponents failed to show construction would harm the bee, but another hearing on the question has been set for Sept. 21.

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