ALGONQUIN – Construction workers are finishing up the Algonquin section of Longmeadow Parkway despite a pending lawsuit claiming that updated environmental impact studies were not completed.
Kane County Division of Transportation assistant director Steve Coffinbargar said that the project was supposed to be completed by Nov. 15, but it now is looking at a mid-December completion date, which is contingent on the weather.
The controversial project was stopped two times during construction – once because of a restraining order meant to protect an endangered species, and a second time because of the state’s budget impasse.
The project creates a new highway between Huntley Road and Route 62, along with a new bridge over the Fox River in Kane County. The project includes building a four-lane, 5.6-mile toll road and a four-lane Fox River bridge crossing.
The current section of the project being worked on is the second of five in the $115 million road project, and it is expected to cost about $13 million, stretching from Randall Road to Karen Drive.
“We are working diligently to button things up before the snow starts to fly,” Coffinbargar said. “We, along with the residents, really look forward to opening up and having operational traffic signals. It’s been a long road to this point, but seeing actual concrete asphalt pavement, you do feel a good sense of accomplishment.”
The project was stopped for the first time because of a judge’s temporary restraining order meant to protect the endangered rusty-patched bumblebee species some said were found within the project’s area. The road bisects open space of the Brunner Family Forest Preserve.
A group of residents against the project – known as Save Brunner Family Forest Preserve – joined together and filed a lawsuit. The group previously was known as Stop Longmeadow.
Proponents of the project have said that the corridor is needed to reduce traffic congestion in northern Kane County.
Attorney Joshua Barney said Kane County conducted an environmental impact study in 2001 and is supposed to update the study every few years to show change, but it never did.
“The big thing is that the public is not in support of this project and they are only doing this for investors of this property,” Barney said. “The demand for retail and demand for random growth and strip malls is disappearing, but these guys are still going forward as if this is the key.”
The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice of intent to sue the Federal Highway Administration and the Illinois Department of Transportation for failing to prevent harm to the endangered rusty-patched bumblebee. The center will join the Save Brunner group’s lawsuit in mid-December, Barney said.
The bumblebee was placed on the endangered species list in March, and the species already has declined by an estimated 91 percent, according to the notice of intent. The bees have obtained federal protection and were sighted in August in undeveloped land along the Fox River, slated to be developed by the Longmeadow Parkway and toll bridge.
In July, the agencies submitted a re-evaluation environmental assessment and saw a finding of no significant effects. The notice claims that the agencies conducted a habitat survey only within the immediate footprint of the bridge and failed to fully assess threats to the bee.
If the agencies do not agree to enter into formal consultation within 60 days, the center plans to sue them for violation of the Endangered Species Act.
Lake Zurich resident Geoffrey Petzel was the first to oppose the Longmeadow Parkway project in a pro se lawsuit he filed in May 2016.
“We are putting a highway and bridge through several forest preserves, destroying the most scenic section of Fox River and also the largest track of open space on the Fox River,” Petzel said. “We are destroying that for the benefit of a transportation project that will benefit construction companies, engineering firms.”
Algonquin resident Dave Reece said the traffic data have changed since the early 2000s, and officials are continuing the project to save face, despite Interstate 90 widening to five lanes and improvements to Randall Road and Route 47.
Amid litigation, the Illinois Department of Transportation opened bids Friday for two more sections of the project. Coffinbargar said that assuming the department receives competitive bids, it can get started on more sections next year.
The Brunner Family Forest Preserve is the last phase of the project, and the most expensive, Petzel said, but the project is moving toward the bridge because it does not yet have the funding.
“They are going to make sure that we get to the river, but there is no guarantee we can cross it,” Petzel said.
Jo Ann Fritz, a lifelong Dundee resident, said the Kane County Board has made residents feel helpless by claiming that the project is a done deal, but she remains confident that the lawsuit will halt the project.
“We aren’t quitting until this project is dead and gone,” Fritz said.
A GoFundMe page has been created to support Barney’s legal fees; the group began paying him through donations but recently has run out, and Barney has been working pro bono.