“Prairie Parkway” Killed in Far West Chicago Suburbs
Back in August, the Federal Government withdrew its approval for Prairie Parkway, a highway that would have connected I-88 and I-80 at the cost of valuable farmland, clean rivers, and community welfare in Kane, Kendall and Grundy Counties. Despite community opposition, the project remained a part of Illinois’ long term transportation plans due to a $207 million earmark that former Congressman Dennis Hastert secured shortly before leaving office.
In 2002, the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) created a 36-mile long and 400 feet wide protected corridor for the parkway that sliced through family farms and in some cases left homes within feet of the road. This created a great deal of opposition from members of the community. An advisory referendum, in which residents could vote for or against the construction of the parkway, was placed on the ballot in six townships. Five out of the six townships voted against it. The Environmental Law and Policy Council, on behalf of “Citizens Against the Sprawlway” and Friends of the Fox River, used this information to build their defense against the Prairie Parkway.
A lawsuit was filed against the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration claiming that these agencies and IDOT did not adequately consider other transportation options and therefore violated the National Environmental Policy Act. On August 23, 2012 a settlement was reached in a Federal District Court.
The settlement rescinded the September 2008 record of decision and removed the Prairie Parkway from Illinois’ long-range transportation plans. Residents can now rest assured that neither the vulnerable farmland nor the Fox River will be harmed for the construction of a road with little community benefit. The $207 million originally earmarked for the parkway will now help rather than harm the communities by being used for local road improvements.
Because IDOT had already spent $70 million of the $207 million earmarked for the parkway, the remaining $137 million will be used on the 47 Plus alternative. This alternative project includes the widening of a 12-mile stretch of IL 47 and making improvements to US 34.
Preventing the Prairie Parkway from being constructed sets a great precedent for Illinois’ transportation future. It shows that projects offering very little benefit at a high environmental cost do not belong in Illinois; and money for those projects could be better used on road improvements or better yet, public transportation. Just think, for that same $207 million, we could have the Metra Heritage Corridor improvements in southwest Cook and Will counties.