The Illinois Tollway has been granted environmental permits from various local, state and federal agencies to proceed with construction of the 12.5-mile south extension of the North-South Tollway (I-355).
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) completed its endangered species consultation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) have issued the section 401 water quality certification and 404 permit authorization to begin construction of one of the project’s major components—a 1.5-mile bridge over the Des Plaines River Valley. The bridge will be built 80 ft above the Des Plaines River Valley, which is comprised of forest and nature preserves; streams and rivers; a shipping canal and historic canal corridor; and threatened and endangered species.
“The Tollway is grateful to the Army Corps and the USFWS for working with us to streamline the permitting process,” said Tollway Executive Director Jack Hartman. “The bottom line is that our cooperative efforts will protect the Des Plaines River Valley environment while ensuring that the project will proceed on schedule so residents and businesses in the Southland will enjoy improved access and mobility when the I-355 south extension is completed by 2007.”
The Des Plaines River Valley is also habitat for the Hine’s emerald dragonfly, a species listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. Since this species is known to exist at a few locations throughout the river valley, the Tollway began working proactively with the Corps and the USFWS in an effort to meet an aggressive project schedule and ensure that multiple resource and regulatory requirements were addressed.
The USFWS has concluded that the Tollway’s commitments to research, restore and monitor potential dragonfly habitat in the Des Plaines River Valley “will result in a net benefit for the species” by addressing “relatively minor impacts to dragonfly habitat.”
“The Tollway has demonstrated that government and environmental agencies at all levels can work cooperatively to protect globally rare animals and plants while obtaining the needed permits that keep major projects on track,” said John Rogner, field supervisor for the USFWS Chicago Field Office. “Going forward, we expect our experiences with the Illinois Tollway to serve as a model for other governments involved in the permitting process.”
Success in streamlined consultation process
The Tollway had accumulated nearly 10 years of knowledge about environmental issues in the Des Plaines River Valley. So when Tollway staff initiated the permitting process in 2004, they worked hand-in-hand with the Corps and the USFWS, with a goal of streamlining the process through cooperative and coordinated efforts. Officials from all three agencies worked over the last year to complete a formal consultation on the effects of the I-355 south extension project. This process, which routinely requires several years of effort, was completed in one year, on Oct. 31, 2005, once the USFWS issued a Biological Opinion.
As part of the agreements, the Tollway has committed to a number of conservation actions that will benefit the Des Plaines River Valley. They include:
Install environmental controls to protect and monitor water resources and habitat throughout the Des Plaines River Valley corridor;
Work with the DuPage County Forest Preserve District to develop nearly 25-acres of wetland mitigation to compensate for the 10-acres of wetlands impacted by the project;
Establish a dragonfly working group to include federal, state and county scientists before, during and after construction;
Help determine the extent of habitat that is actually occupied by the dragonfly;
Create, restore and manage dragonfly habitat that has been degraded over time; and
Advance understanding of the genetics of the species and refine captive rearing techniques.
By concluding the consultation process by November 2005, important work on the project can continue through the winter months and the construction project can remain on schedule.
Part of Tollway’s Congestion-Relief Plan
The construction of the 12.5 mile extension of the North-South Tollway (I-355) is part of the Tollway’s 10 year, $5.3 billion Congestion-Relief Plan, Open Roads for a Faster Future, which will reduce travel times by rebuilding and restoring 90% of the system, widening and adding lanes to nearly half the system—117 miles of existing roads, and convert 20 mainline toll plazas to barrier-free Open Road Tolling. Under the plan, I-355 would extend from where it currently ends at the Stevenson Expressway (I-55) through Will County to I-80.