From: Maura Kelly Lannan, Associated Press
Published August 11, 2005 12:00 AM

Transportation Bill Includes Controversial $207 Million Pet Project for Hastert

MONTGOMERY, Ill. — The massive transportation bill President Bush signed Wednesday includes $207 million for a pet project of House Speaker Dennis Hastert -- a new road connecting two major highways in his district.


But state officials are not yet convinced that the Prairie Parkway connector is the best way to ease traffic in the growing region outside Chicago, and some locals say it will promote urban sprawl, hurt the environment and swallow up fertile farmland.


Illinois was second only to California in the amount of money earmarked for special projects -- $1.3 billion -- in the transportation bill, according to an analysis by the budget watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense. Hastert's district made out particularly well, with money for the parkway and another $70 million for a bridge in Kane County.


The proposed parkway connecting Interstates 80 and 88 across small towns and farmland 55 miles west of Chicago won special mention from Bush before he signed the bill at a Caterpillar plant here, with Hastert by his side.


"Prairie Parkway is crucial for economic progress for Kane and Kendall counties, which happen to be two of the fastest-growing counties in the United States," Bush said.


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The president said the proposed 33-mile connector would help create jobs in the area. Hastert, a Republican from nearby Yorkville, has been pushing the project for years.


"We need to expand our transportation network and find new ways to move traffic in order to address growth," Hastert said before the bill signing, without specifically mentioning the parkway.


But members of a local group opposed to the plan argue it will encourage rapid and uncontrolled growth throughout the area and hurt the environment. A handful of them showed up outside the Caterpillar plant Wednesday to protest.


"It will destroy 2,000 or more acres of prime farmland. It will threaten two of the highest-quality streams in Illinois. And it will ignite sprawl throughout the rural area," said Jan Strasma, chairman of Citizens Against the Sprawlway.


Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Tim Martin said the area needs a major road to handle growth, but he didn't commit to building the Prairie Parkway. The federal bill provides only partial funding for the project, which state officials say could cost about $1 billion.


A preliminary engineering study on the transportation needs of the area is not expected to be done until 2008, said Department of Transportation spokesman Matt Vanover.


Gov. Rod Blagojevich said he has talked to Hastert about the proposal but wants to wait to see the study results.


"All the engineers and all the experts need to weigh in and give their best estimates. We're interested in taking a look and seeing if it makes sense," the governor said.


Source: Associated Press


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