Update on Prairie Parkway Corridor Planning Group Environmental Task Force Activities

By Tom Shrader
Vice President, Friends of the Fox River

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As noted in the last newsletter, Friends of the Fox River Vice-President Tom Schrader was invited to serve on the Environmental Task Force (ETF) of the Corridor Planning Group for the Prairie Parkway. The Prairie Parkway is a proposed freeway which would connect I-88 near Kaneville to I-80 near either Morris (western alternative) or Minooka (eastern alternative).

At the May, 2006 meeting of the ETF, the group discussed the current state of the Prairie Parkway project and was updated on next steps in securing federal approval for the project to move forward. The next step in the process is the production of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). Project engineers intend to have the DEIS completed sometime in September, 2006. The DEIS will be drafted by Prairie Parkway project leaders and will be a compilation of studies and recommendations made by the Illinois Natural History Survey, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and other state and federal governmental agencies regarding the impact of the proposed freeway on the environment. Upon completion of the DEIS, a public comment period will be opened where members of the community can provide input. The timing of this public comment period is dependent on the completion date of the DEIS and will be announced in future newsletters and on our website.

Members of the Environmental Task Force were told that due to federal rules, they would have no direct input on the development of the DEIS. However, project leaders stated that the people who conducted the field research involved with the DEIS (INHS, IDNR and others) may be asked to make presentations to the group and field questions. We look forward to hearing from them.

Also discussed was the fact that not enough federal money has been budgeted to complete the entire project and that the plan is to build the Prairie Parkway in segments with future segments built when and if funding is secured. The first segment to be constructed (pending approval) will be from U.S. Route 30 (just east of Big Rock) to Illinois Route 71 (just west of Yorkville). This stretch of proposed freeway, while not providing the benefits of an alternate connection between I-88 and I-80, poses the greatest environmental threat to the Big Rock Creek and Fox River watersheds. When questioned why this segment was chosen to be built first, project leaders informed the ETF that $55 million of the $209 million in federal funding for the project had been earmarked for an interchange at the intersection of the Prairie Parkway and U.S. Route 34. IDOT officials also stated that their studies have shown that this stretch of freeway is projected to have the most use when the freeway is completed. When questioned about the possibility of federal funding not being procured for completion of the entire Prairie Parkway route, officials conceded that that possibility exists.

Since current federal funding exists only for building a segment of the Prairie Parkway and that segment has to include an interchange at U.S. Route 34, residents of the area are faced with the possibility of having a four-lane freeway being built from U.S. Route 30 in rural Big Rock to Illinois Route 71 in rural Yorkville that will have maximum impacts on sensitive ecosystems with minimal improvements to area transportation needs.

If you feel that the Prairie Parkway should not be started under circumstances that could result in substantial negative impacts to the Big Rock Creek watershed without the concurrent major improvements to the region’s transportation infrastructure, please write your U.S. Representative and Senators to let them know. You may want to use the sample letter to convey your opinion. Also, be sure to check our website frequently for more information about the upcoming public comment period for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

An active, informed citizenry can make a difference!