Illiana Fate Hangs in the Balance

Construction of Illiana toll road could be fatally hampered by key court decision. - The decision, released on Tuesday looked at legal questions surrounding the process used by the Federal Highway Administration (FHA), a branch of the U.S. Department of Transportation, to grant planning approval for the road. Under federal law, road projects must fulfill a series of environmental mandates, including the filing of a valid environmental impact statement under conditions that include its submission for public comment, before FHA planning permission can be granted.

The decision by U.S. District Court Judge Jorge Alonso found that when FHA planning was taking place to build the proposed $1.3 billion toll road, several steps of this process had been improperly shorted or omitted. The decision raised speculation that Illinois road planners – including planners associated with the Pat Quinn-era Illinois Department of Transportation – may have collaborated to cut corners in the Illiana planning process.

Other, separate questions have also been raised about the traffic projections used by road advocates to develop a financial case for construction of the proposed 50-mile-long highway, scheduled to be built through southern Will County as a link between Interstates 55 and 65. While decisions by a district court judge can be appealed, insiders speculated that this week’s court decision could be a death blow to the controversial project. Illinois’ cash-strapped transportation capital budget could be looking for reasons to reallocate the planning resources allocated to this project in other directions. The Illinois Department of Transportation responded to the Alonso decision in a low-key manner that did not express support for the Illiana toll road project.