WILMINGTON – Residents whose properties cut right through the proposed Illiana Expressway vented their frustrations during an informational meeting Wednesday night at city hall in Wilmington.
The $1.3 billion four-lane highway project appeared to be on the fast track to construction earlier this year, but has since been delayed amid concerns from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about the project’s potential impact on endangered species.
In the meantime, residents’ lives are in limbo.
About 275 to 300 properties stand in the pathway of the planned 47-mile tollway, which would connect Interstate 55 in Wilmington to I-65 near Lowell, Indiana, and help alleviate congested traffic on Interstate 80 and local roads.
“You do understand why we’re crabby? You’re not dealing with our houses. You’re dealing with our homes,” said Jackie Danalewich, of Wilmington, whose home in the Foxtail Commons subdivision is adjacent to the planned Illiana route.
Danalewich was among the roughly 70 residents who attended the information meeting arranged by Will County Board member Ragan Freitag, R-Wilmington, Wednesday evening.
Two Illinois Department of Transportation land acquisition experts were in attendance to answer questions, along with Wilmington’s ombudsman, Mike Hansen, state Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, and state Rep. John Anthony, R-Morris.
Federal approval is now expected in late summer or early fall, rather than the previously anticipated May, due to recently raised environmental concerns, state officials said, so appraisals have slowed considerably.
Under state law, appraisals are only valid for six months, so the 30 completed appraisals will have to be updated once a record of decision has been made, said Michael Cullian, realty specialist with IDOT’s land acquisition bureau.
Of the hundreds of properties in the pathway, 60 to 80 will require the total relocation of businesses, residences or farm operations, Cullian said.
Once IDOT gets federal approval, the state agency will make formal offers via certified mail. Landowners who want to make a counter offer can do so by getting their own appraisal done – but at their own expense, said Hansen, the city’s ombudsman.
The state will pay fair market value for the properties, Cullian said.
Peotone farmer Virginia Hamann, of the No Illiana 4 Us group, was among the residents worried they won’t get a fair deal on the properties. Hamann even went as far as to say residents should get commercial value for their residential properties because that’s how the state intends to use their land.
“IDOT’s not buying our 80-acre dairy farm to put another dairy farm on it. You’re buying it to put a commercial highway so we should be paid commercial value,” Hamann said.
Others, including David Dodd, a general manager for Miken Transportation at Route 53 and New River Road, made the point that the highway would be a waste of taxpayers dollars because truckers won’t use the tolled road.
Semitrailer drivers will find routes where tolls aren’t required, meaning traffic congestion seen along Peotone Road and Route 53 will continue as it is today, he said.
“Why are we even talking about acquisition? We need to talk about why in the world are we building a [tollway] when the state has no money?” Dodd said. “No truck is going to take that [tollway] … Waste of money. Down the drain.”
Private investment is expected to cover the cost of the project, but the public-private partnership is a concept several residents believe will fail, leaving taxpayers footing the bill. IDOT officials have said the investment would be paid back out of tolls, but the rate is still unknown.
A private investment team should be selected to build and operate the highway by early 2015, but construction wouldn’t start until summer or fall of 2015.
Landowners in the Illiana’s path who were unable to attend the meeting can contact the city’s ombudsman Mike Hansen at 815-744-9500, or firstname.lastname@example.org.