Despite speculations, the Prairie Parkway proposal apparently is not dead yet.
“Our status on it hasn’t changed at all,” Dan Mestelle, project implementation engineer with District 3, Illinois Department of Transportation at Ottawa, said Wednesday. “We’re still finishing up the environmental impact study on Phase One, and we’re still protecting the corridor.”
The Prairie Parkway concept is a nearly 37-mile corridor that would pass through Kendall County to link Interstate 88 in Kane County with Interstate 80 in Grundy County, about three miles west of Minooka, near Tabler Road.
Two years ago, Grundy County backed a proposal by Kendall County for the Illinois Tollway Authority to construct that part of the Prairie Parkway from the Fox River south to Minooka. The Tollway Authority can issue bonds and build the parkway within the next five years, IDOT spokesman Rick Powell, since retired, said in early 2009.
Jan Strasma, retired spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Lisle and current chairman of Citizens Against the Sprawlway, a 1,000-member organization opposed to construction of the parkway, believes otherwise.
“The Illinois Tollway Commission has eliminated the Prairie Parkway as a possible project for future expansion of the tollway system,” Strasma noted in a July 5 news release by CAS.
“The tollway weighed the costs and benefits of the Prairie Parkway, and found the cost far outweighed the limited benefits,” he said in the release.
Strasma told the Morris Daily Herald on Wednesday that the tollway was considering five projects last year. Then the agency noted late last month it had looked at four projects, plus another one not included in the original list of five.
“So essentially they are going on to other projects, and not doing anything on the Prairie Parkway,” he said. “They didn’t say why. Their news release doesn’t even mention the parkway. It just says these are projects to do additional review, and doesn’t mention the Prairie Parkway.”
Illinois Tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur said the agency’s board agreed at its last meeting a balance must be found “between limited available funding, the need to take care of the existing Tollway System, and any new projects as it proceeds to develop the Tollway’s next 10-year plan.”
Lafluer noted in a printed statement Wednesday that IDOT is the lead agency for the Prairie Parkway.
“As the project is in the preliminary planning stages, the tollway will continue to support IDOT’s planning efforts by providing input and guidance,” her statement concluded.
The new projects — possibly short-term priorities initially identified by the Illinois Tollway board — are the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90), Elgin O’Hare west bypass, I-294/I-57 interchange, Illinois 53 north extension, and the Illiana Expressway.
The press release to which Strasma referred notes the Illinois Tollway is considering what role it can play in moving these five named projects forward several years from now, “once consensus is reached on the corridor plans for Illinois 53 and the Illiana Expressway.”
Strasma said Wednesday he has not talked to or called anyone at the Illinois Tollway.
“I’m not going to,” he said. “It’s clear they’ve ended their review of the Prairie Parkway and moving on to other projects. Certainly they can come back to it, but I don’t know what their action is.”
Strasma said the reality is the tollway had decided to go ahead on their other projects and do nothing on the Prairie Parkway proposal.
He also noted the agency indicated to CAS that local opposition to the project would be a consideration.
“So, it may be a factor,” he said.
CAS, a grassroots organization which has opposed the Prairie Parkway for 10 years, is seeking improvements to the existing highways instead of a new, billion-dollar freeway.
“Of the projects studied as possible tollway expansion and upgrades, only the Prairie Parkway was dropped from consideration,” Strasma said of the Illinois Tollway consideration.
The agency now plans further public involvement in the review process on the five listed remaining projects.
Strasma noted IDOT has halted work on the parkway with no funding in the six-year highway improvement program since 2008.
The current 2012-2017 highway program does include $48.7 million to expand Illinois 47 through Yorkville, along with initial engineering for improvements from Yorkville to Sugar Grove north, and south of Yorkville to Caton Farm Road.
The Prairie Parkway proposal is lying at IDOT in waiting, Strasma noted.
“There’s always the possibility it can be resurrected, unless they get a clear turndown from the state,” he said. “No, there’s no victory circle yet.”