A GRASSROOTS EFFORT against the Illiana is gathering steam as it gathers participants. The group was passing petitions and handing out signs at Tuesday's open house meeting in Peotone. Wilmington residents are invited to join No Illiana 4 Us, to offer the perspective of residents on the west side of the project area.
A group of individuals looking for an alternative to the construction of the Illiana tollway will hold a meeting in Wilmington, accepting representation from the west end of the project area.
Virginia Hamann, of Peotone, explains the group's mission is to find viable alternatives to the proposal to construct a multi-lane highway, most likely a tollway, linking Interstate 65 in Indiana to Interstate 55 in Illinois. Those alternatives might include widening and improving existing roads, building turn lanes, adding interstate exchanges and developing additional roads.
Indiana was first to have an anti-Illiana group. Illinois followed suit, but, according to Hamann, when the project was fast-tracked, the volunteers decided it would be beneficial to merge into one. The group would have a greater number, greater voice.
"There's strength in numbers, and we have to fight it together ... It affects all of us the same," Hamann said. "Just because it doesn't go through your home or your farm doesn't mean it doesn't affect you. It affects everybody."
The first meeting of the combined group was in February. The group contacted the Environmental Law and Policy Center for guidance. The center was involved with the Citizens Against the Sprawlway, who successfully shelved the Prairie Parkway project that was supposed to link Interstate 80 near Minooka to Interstate 88 near Elburn.
Although the Prairie Parkway project received a federal record of decision approving it in September 2008, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago determined the Federal Highway Administration violated federal law in how the project was approved. Voters also opposed the parkway in five township advisory referendums. Funding was dropped from the state's construction plans and diverted to other projects.
According to Hamann, the ELPC has indicated the No Illiana volunteers are on the right track. The ELPC's current function is making the connections between No Illiana 4 Us and the 15 environmentally-focused groups like the Sierra Club that filed objections to the project during Tier One planning.
The Midewin Heritage Association and the Midewin Tallgrass Prairie Alliance are also looking at the road's impact on historic sites in the Midewin region as identified in the county Historic Preservation Commission historic structures survey, and the flora and fauna of the prairie. The Alliance has been invited to become a Section 106 consulting party, according to Lorin Schab, the Alliance president. Becoming a consulting party does not suggest support for the project, nor does it indicate expertise.
"We think it's better to be on the inside than the outside," Schab said.
The No Illiana 4 Us volunteers believe the highway will place additional financial burdens on local governments trying to maintain roads that were not meant to handle truck traffic and take more property off of the tax rolls to negatively impact schools and other small units.
It will be a significant detriment to the farms in its path - even though the route may take only an acre or two from a 10-acre tract, farmland is productive land. Those acres may produce the hay that feeds the dairy cows that live in the barn on the other eight or nine acres of the farm.
Hamann's farm will be so affected, and she knows the Illinois Department of Transportation will not foot the bill for the feed she'll have to buy in lieu of the hay she could have produced from that fertile farm soil. And she doesn't know what will happen with the cows in terms of milk production if the pounding truck traffic is just outside the barn.
In addition, No Illiana 4 Us does not believe truckers, especially those from small firms, will pay the tolls to use the Illiana if there are routes they can use for free.
No Illiana 4 Us is interested in participation from the west end of the project. Since almost none of its participants are from the Wilmington or Symerton area, the group's focus has been on alternatives far to the east of the Island City - they're looking at bolstering Routes 45, 50 and 52, and Peotone Road, but are not familiar with what the community's needs are around Route 53 and Interstate 55.
The group has scheduled a meeting on Thursday, April 25, at 6:30 p.m., at the Wilmington VFW Post 5422, at 557 W. Baltimore St., and one on April 29, also at 6:30, at the Washington Township Center, 30200 Town Center Road in Beecher. Anyone interested in the group's mission is welcome to attend.
"IDOT told us to stick our heads in the sand. We're not going to do that," Hamann concluded.
For additional information, contact outreach coordinator Anthony Rayson at 708-534-1334 or 708-890-2037. Connect with the group on Facebook at No Illiana 4 Us ( https://www.facebook.com/NoIlliana4US?ref=ts&fref=ts)
No Illiana 4 Us promotes writing to elected officials, from townships on up to state level offices, as well as writing letters to the editor. The Free Press Advocate will accept letters to the editor - which must be signed and include a phone number for office use - at 111 S. Water St., Wilmington, IL, 60481 or via email at email@example.com.