Feds pull approval for Prairie Parkway through Kendall Co.
By Steve Lord email@example.com August 23, 2012 11:41AM
A large construction sign lies in the grass on the side of Route 47 just south of Route 71 in Yorkville on July 17, 2012, waiting to be erected when construction begins on Route 47 through downtown Yorkville. | Steven Buyansky~Sun-Times Media
Prairie Parkway timeline
2001 – U.S. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, a Yorkville Republican, announces he wants to help site and fund a connection between Interstates 80 and 88, an outer belt through western Kane and Kendall counties.” By the end of the year, federal highway officials and the Illinois Department of Transportation have begun public hearings on the project.
July 31, 2002 – The Illinois Department of Transportation records a protected corridor, 36 miles long and 400-feet wide, through Kane, Kendall and Grundy counties, for the Prairie Parkway.
September 2002 – The Citizens Against the Sprawlway group files a lawsuit on behalf of 56 landowners in the Prairie Parkway corridor, claiming the corridor protection is, in effect, taking land without due process.
September 2002 — Hastert purchases a 192-acre farm near Little Rock, in Kendall County. Part of that land eventually will be land included in a sale in which he and partners make more than $2 million. He is criticized in later years, because some say the price increased because of its proximity to the Prairie Parkway corridor.
December 2004 – State presents to the public, for the first time, a summary of options being considered for the parkway. The more than 150 ideas boil down to the two things: building a new outer belt parkway, and improving local and state roads already in existence.
June 2006 - A Beacon-News investigation and a Washington watchdog group raise questions about a $2 million profit Hastert made from buying and selling land in the area of the Prairie Parkway.
December 2006 – Citizens air concerns at hearings held on the specific routes for the Prairie Parkway.
June 2007 – The state chooses a route that defines the projected $1 billion highway. It would run for 37 miles, beginning at Interstate 88 near Kaneville, swinging east near Yorkville, and ending at I- 80 near Minooka. The project also includes widening Route 47 to four lanes for a 12-mile span from Yorkville’s southern boundary to I-80.
September 2008 – The Federal Highway Administration approves Alternative B5, out of several alternatives proposed, for the Prairie Parkway. The alternative also included widening of Route 47 through Kane and Kendall counties.
October 2010 – The Metropolitan Planning Organization approves the Go To 2040 Regional Comprehensive Plan and the 2010-2015 Transportation Improvement Program. It includes a portion of the Prairie Parkway.
January 2012 – The Federal Highway Administration determines that funds identified in the federal transportation bill for the Prairie Parkway are eligible for Route 47 funding.
June and July 2012 – In several moves, the Metropolitan Planning Organization separates Prairie Parkway funding and Route 47 funding in the 2010-2015 Transportation Improvement Plan, and eventually removes reference to funding for the Prairie Parkway.
Aug. 22, 2012 – The Federal Highway Administration rescinds the September 2008 approval of Alternative B5.
Updated: September 25, 2012 10:45AM
A decision this week by the Federal Highway Administration has all but killed the Prairie Parkway.
Still, local officials who are evaluating the decision by an FHA administrator said reports of the death of the proposed connection between Interstates 80 and 88 are premature.
“At least for the time being, the project is officially on the backburner,” said a local highway official who declined to be identified. “But I don’t think this is the death, the final gloom and doom, of the project.”
The same official pointed out that the administrative ruling is “kind of moot,” because the Prairie Parkway has unofficially been on the backburner for a while.
“In the short term, nobody can spend federal money on the Prairie Parkway,” the official said. “But it doesn’t preclude somebody from picking up the project at a later date.”
The Illinois Department of Transportation has protected the corridor for the parkway at least through 2017, and can re-register that when necessary because it has already spent about $70 million in federal and state funds, and has purchased about 250 acres in the corridor which stretches through western Kane and Kendall counties.
Route 47 work goes on
The decision this week by Norman Stoner, an FHA division administrator, rescinds the record of decision of Sept. 19, 2008, that chose an alternative for the Prairie Parkway path.
At that time, the highway was intended to be 37 miles and was estimated to cost $1 billion. It would run from Interstate 88 near Kaneville in Kane County, swinging east near Yorkville in Kendall County, and ending at Interstate 80 near Minooka in Grundy County.
When the state chose that alternative, it included in the project widening of Route 47 to four lanes for a 12-mile span from Yorkville’s southern boundary to I-80. That part of the project remains intact.
Throughout this past summer, federal officials made several decisions that involved separating the Route 47 part of the project from the parkway, according to Stoner. So, with Stoner’s decision, the state still can spend federal money on Route 47, but not on the Prairie Parkway.
IDOT has three separate projects on the books to widen Route 47 from Cross Street in Sugar Grove in Kane County, all the way to Caton Farm Road south of Yorkville. One of those projects is set to start yet this year, and the other two are in engineering phases.
It remains to be seen if the decision affects the four miles of the parkway Kendall officials hoped to get built first, connecting Routes 34 and 71 with a bridge over the Fox River.
In his decision, Stoner said IDOT supported the decision, in the sense that it has not included any funding for the Prairie Parkway in its six-year funding plan.
Stoner’s decision was part of a settlement of a federal lawsuit, brought by the Friends of the Fox River and Citizens Against the Sprawlway, against the Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration.
Jan Strasma of Citizens Against the Sprawlway has been fighting the highway since 2001.
Strasma claimed victory this week.
“After an 11-year ﬁght, we have ﬁnally scuttled this highway which would have destroyed thousands of acres of prime farmland, threatened the Fox River tributaries, and forever changed the area’s small community way of life,” he said.
Strasma said that the organization will celebrate the FHA decision at 4 p.m. Sunday at the 11th Annual Stop the Beltway picnic at the farm of Marvel Davis, another original opponent of the highway, because the parkway would have cut through her Big Rock farm property.
While there has been discussion and even attempts at siting a centerline for an outer beltway since the 1980s, former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert of Yorkville started the current attempt in 2001.
By the time he resigned from Congress in 2008, Hastert had gotten $207 million earmarked as part of the 2005 federal transportation bill for the parkway. While that was a fraction of the overall cost, it was enough to begin the process of siting the corridor and beginning Phase I engineering.
In 2006, a federal watchdog group and The Beacon-News revealed that Hastert and partners had made more than $2 million in a land deal near the parkway corridor. Hastert always denied the parkway had an affect on the land sale, but many opponents criticized him for it, and it surfaced this past year in a CBS “60 Minutes” report as an example of congressmen benefiting from inside information.
Support from counties
Many local officials were unaware of the decision Thursday, or still trying to get an explanation of what it means.
Oswego Village President Brian LeClercq said he was “not surprised, but as long as we’re working on all those other roads around here that’s what’s important.”
Kendall County Board Chairman John Purcell declined to comment directly because he had not seen the decision. But he said the county was right in supporting the highway for the past 11 years.
“I believe the Prairie Parkway in the long-run was necessary,” he said.
Kane County Board Chairman Karen McConnaughay said she also was trying to get an explanation, but said the Prairie Parkway was always part of a bigger picture.
Chicago is the largest freight center in the country, for both rail and highway, and the parkway was designed to help the need to move freight throughout the region, making the trip easier between Wisconsin and Indiana.
“If we’re going to change gears here, we still have an unanswered question, and that is how will we move freight through the Chicago region,” she said.