Cain: Crickets vs. concrete for southern Will Co.
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain email@example.com October 18, 2013 11:11PM
The Rev. James Hunt (left) listens to state transportation secretary Ann Schneider during a rally for the Illiana Expressway on Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013, at the Operating Engineers Local 150 Training Center in southern Will County. | Cindy Cain~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 21, 2013 6:43AM
I don’t go to Oak Brook often. The stores can be pricey, and the drive is a bit far from my home.
But I had to run an errand there a couple of weeks ago, and as I drove east on Interstate 88, I was again in awe of all the gleaming office buildings that line the toll road.
This entrance to the western suburbs is very, very attractive. Contrast that with the warehouses along Interstates 55 and 80, and you get a different vibe.
Many people believe the spinoff from O’Hare International Airport led to the corporate corridor along I-88. And they’re hoping the proposed South Suburban Airport near Peotone would perform similar magic for South Cook and Will counties.
This tug of war for transportation resources spilled over into the Illiana Expressway debate in recent weeks. The Chicago-based Metropolitan Planning Organization voted Thursday to include the $1.3 billion project in its long-range regional plan. The vote came after weeks of pressure by officials in South Cook and Will counties as well as Gov. Pat Quinn and state Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider.
The argument became a north vs. south fight for many people. While Will County is becoming a logistics capital rather than a corporate one, some people hope a little of the latter travels south toward a new tollway and airport.
One of those people is the Rev. James Hunt of New Hope Christian Community Church in Monee. He also serves as president of the South Suburban Action Conference.
Hunt spoke Wednesday at a last-minute rally for the Illiana Expressway in the parking lot of the Operating Engineers Local 150 Training Center on South Arsenal Road.
Both the Illiana and the airport will bring much-needed jobs to the region, Hunt said. But it’s about more than that, it’s about the future, he said.
“If I can borrow a phrase from the late, great Dr. (Martin Luther) King, ‘I have a dream,’” Hunt told the crowd. “I have a dream that the Southland region will look just like the north suburbs. That we will have Fortune 500 companies. That we will have five-star hotels. That we will have restaurants. That we will have commerce that will rival any place in the world.
“I have a dream that the Southland will be and is the transportation hub of the nation. That it will be the most important place to come to in the United States. ... I have a dream that (Thursday) when we come to this MPO session that the Illiana corridor will be approved.”
A portion of Hunt’s dream came true Thursday when the MPO’s policy committee OK’d the Illiana Expressway. But there are hurdles yet to overcome. Three environmental groups have filed a federal lawsuit to block the tollway, which they say could hurt the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and lead to suburban sprawl.
And a private developer has to come forward to bid on the project. The state doesn’t have the money to build the Illiana, so it’s hoping for its first public-private partnership to finance the 47-mile highway that would link Interstate 55 near Wilmington with I-65 near Lowell, Ind.
The South Suburban Airport is in a similar situation. The Federal Aviation Administration hasn’t given its final blessing to the project, which also would be a public-private partnership.
But even if the Illiana and the airport are realized, would South Cook and Will counties ever look like Oak Brook? I doubt it.
And some people have other dreams for the area. For the farmers whose families have worked the land for generations and newcomers who moved south for a quieter way of life, the tollway and airport are nightmares.
A few years ago, I interviewed a man who lived off Lorenzo Road near I-55 about a BNSF cargo-rail hub being built near his home.
“I kind of like the quiet out here,” he said. “That’s why I came out here, so I could listen to the crickets.”
Some people want crickets. Some want to pave the way for Fortune 500 companies.
I’ve lived in Palos Heights, Oak Lawn, DeKalb, Westmont, Bourbonnais, Joliet and Ottawa in my life. I’ve been surrounded by both concrete and crickets.
Only time will tell which will win out in South Will County. And only time will tell if the decisions being made now are the right ones. I hope they are.