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Daily Herald
September 6, 2005

Prairie Parkway is not the answer to our traffic woes

Jan Strasma
Jan Strasma is chairman of Citizens Against the Sprawlway.

You're backed up in traffic again on Randall Road. Your grip on the wheel tightens and you growl at a car edging into your lane. Too many signals. Too many cars. Where can you find relief?

If you're thinking the "Prairie Parkway," the proposed freeway to the west between Interstate 88 and Interstate 80, will help, think again.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert just delivered $207 million in federal tax dollars to jump-start the project, proposed as 35-mile link between the two interstates, ending at Kaneville in rural Kane County.

But that's 10 miles to the west &emdash; and will not relieve congestion here on Randall Road, on Tri-Cities streets or in burgeoning Oswego.

Such a freeway might help people who are traveling great distances and don't want to be inconvenienced by a few stoplights.

It certainly would serve the interests of developers seeking to open up more land for more houses and more sprawl.

But it would not meet the traffic needs of residents already living in Kane and Kendall counties. In fact, a freeway would lead to increased congestion as more people are enticed to areas opened by the highway.

What we need are improvements to the existing road network so we can get to jobs, school and shopping more easily. We won't drive miles to a north-south freeway for a nearby trip. But we would all benefit from better maintenance and improvements for existing roads.

An Illinois Department of Transportation survey of area motorists last fall showed this same common-sense approach. When asked for their top two solutions for reducing traffic congestion, almost three-quarters of those polled favored widening existing roads, improving intersections and adding new connecting routes, along with better coordination and planning. Just 10 percent saw a new freeway as a preferred solution.

Focusing on existing highways also avoids the negative impacts of a freeway.

A Prairie Parkway freeway would destroy 2,000 acres of superb farmland and threaten two of the finest streams in Illinois: Big Rock Creek and Aux Sable Creek.

Its effect on sprawl would be like throwing gasoline on a fire. Some areas in Kane and Kendall counties already are under extreme development pressure, and each interchange along the freeway would bring sprawl to additional rural areas.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich has recognized that taking on the Prairie Parkway may not be the best use of state and federal tax dollars &emdash; and that highway funding should focus on areas already seeing traffic pressure. He would surely agree that improving and expanding existing highways is a priority.

The Prairie Parkway is not a "done deal." IDOT's study of area traffic needs will not be completed until 2008, and there is no conclusion that a freeway is the answer. The $207 million in federal funding is for connections between I-80 and I-88, and not necessarily a freeway route.

We must use common sense &emdash; where do we want to go and what road improvements will get us there safely and efficiently?

One such proposal is the Wikaduke Trail, which would follow the existing Ridge and Eola roads for better flow between I-80 and I-88 at the eastern edge of Kendall County. This road is a good example of creative planning to make better use of the highway resources we already have.

Another focus must be Route 47, the principal north-south route through central Kendall and Kane counties. Other projects would provide better connections between north-south county roads, including a proposed bridge over the Fox River between Yorkville and Plano and enhancements to the Orchard Road corridor.

These diverse projects, using existing roads, would add up to major improvements in traffic flow.

We have the framework for the future &emdash; state highways, county roads, city streets. We should not let the politicians and lobbyists dictate our highway planning. We must work with what we have, expanding, connecting and improving the road network to bring relief to the entire area.