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Aurora Beacon-News
January 18, 2002

Outer-belt funds shock foes

Federal appropriation: $15 million would cover Phase I studies

By Dave Parro STAFF WRITER

Leading outer-belt highway opponents are wondering why the state and Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert failed to announce that $15 million is earmarked for first-phase studies of the proposed Prairie Parkway.

A bill containing the congressional appropriation for the highway was signed into law in mid-December, designating funds for National Corridor Planning and Development Program projects. The outer-belt connector through Kane and Kendall counties is listed among more than 120 other projects and activities eligible for funding in fiscal year 2002.

The money available for the 33-mile Prairie Parkway, connecting Interstates 88 and 80, would cover a Phase I study, which would include environmental, traffic and need assessments.

"I think it's very curious that, on something as prominent in the news, when there's a $15 million grant sitting there, people wouldn't be talking about it," said Jan Strasma, spokesman for the highway opponent group Citizens Against the Sprawlway.

Strasma said he questions why Illinois Department of Transportation representatives said, at the Conservation Foundation meeting earlier this month, that there currently is no highway funding. A member of the opposition group came across the funding line this week on the Web site of the Federal Highway Administration.

Gregg Mounts, program development engineer in IDOT's Ottawa district, said local IDOT officials had heard funding might be available but had no solid information. The Springfield IDOT office coordinates all federal funding.

Springfield spokesman Dick Adorjan said the funding has been earmarked, but IDOT will not receive the money until a corridor is set and the state turns in an application. He said IDOT officials were correct when they said no part of the project has received funding.

The state has the necessary $3.7 million to match the federal funds, Adorjan said, another criteria for the appropriation. A Phase I study, which could take five to six years, would cost $15 million to $20 million.

"We intend to (apply) as soon as we complete the corridor assessment," Adorjan said.

The state has set a Feb. 10 deadline for public comments on the Prairie Parkway, but Adorjan said there is no date set for the legal recording of the 400-foot corridor-protection area.

Strasma also criticized Hastert, R-Yorkville, for not announcing the funding. Hastert has been a leading supporter of the highway.

Hastert spokesman Pete Jeffries said from Washington Thursday that the funding was "old news," considering the bill passed the U.S. House in mid-July. Hastert never has hidden his intention to secure funding for the project, representatives said.

"People on both sides of the issue have asked for a study," Hastert spokesman John McGovern said. "However, these funds are available only to conduct Phase I engineering, which is necessary to determine the feasibility of a road project."

If the highway is feasible, Hastert then will work to secure further funding for construction, McGovern said.

Kane County Board Chairman Mike McCoy said the county had no knowledge of the funding through House Resolution 2299. McCoy speculated that IDOT is moving quickly to set a corridor so the project will be eligible for funding this year.

"For me, it's a real stretch for them to say they knew nothing about this," McCoy said.

Hastert representatives said his office does not announce every federal appropriation. Adorjan said IDOT has not even yet received notification of the funding from the Federal Highway Administration.