IDOT, Federal Highway Administration drop appeal of Illiana Expressway court ruling

The Illinois Department of Transportation announced Wednesday the state agency is following the Federal Highway Administration's lead by voluntarily dismissing its appeal of a recent court decision that ruled the federal government's approval of the Illiana Expressway project invalid.

“The project remains on indefinite hold,” Guy Tridgell, spokesman for IDOT, said in an email Wednesday.

Doug Hecox, spokesman for the FHA, confirmed Wednesday the administration’s decision to voluntarily dismiss its appeal but declined to comment further.

“No, we’re not offering any comment. [The agency does not] comment on litigation,” he said.

In a news release, the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center – a major opponent of the $1.3 billion proposed tollway project – said the FHA’s reversal means the Illinois Department of Transportation’s and Indiana Department of Transportation’s “fundamentally flawed” environmental impact statement process “must start over and use much more realistic data.”

The controversial project's fate has changed several times in the last year with turnover in gubernatorial administrations – the project saw significant support from ex-Gov. Pat Quinn – and the June federal court ruling.

The court had ruled a critical piece in the FHA's record of decision – handed down late last year – was "arbitrary and capricious" and violated federal environmental law because the environmental impact study "did not substantiate the purpose and need" for the tollway project. The court ruled the study was based on a faulty "no build" analysis and failed to consider alternatives.

The proposed 47-mile tollway would connect Interstate 55 in Wilmington to Interstate 65 in Indiana. Supporters have said the tollway would relieve traffic congestion on Interstate 80 south of Chicago and create much-needed jobs. Critics – including the ELPC – say it’s financially risky.

John Greuling, president and CEO for the Will County Center for Economic Development, declined to comment until he learned more about the administration’s decision and its impact on the project.