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Local News

Homeowners in Illiana's path find themselves at a loss

George Lempeotis talks about the Illiana Expressway Saturday while at his home in Peotone. The proposed toll road would connect interstates in Illinois and Indiana.
George Lempeotis talks about the Illiana Expressway Saturday while at his home in Peotone. The proposed toll road would connect interstates in Illinois and Indiana.

Paula and Anthony Basile set out 23 years ago to transform a plot of land in Manhattan into their dream home – a dream that now stands in the path of the Illiana Expressway.

The Basiles’ 10 acres of land today includes flower and vegetable gardens overlooking a concrete pond, a large metal pole barn and an ornamental pear tree that they cherish because it was planted by their youngest son.

“It’s a home. It’s not a house,” said Paula Basile, 68, as she peered out the window of her South Cedar Road home Monday. “This was only a wheat field before. That’s what makes this so heartbreaking. This is our home.”

The proposed route for the Illiana Expressway, connecting Interstate 55 in Wilmington to Interstate 65 near Lowell, Ind., affects not just the Basile property, but dozens of others, including neighbor Alan Brown. Brown’s 10 acres also is in the direct path of the proposed tollway.

“I moved down here 21 years ago. I bought the 10 acres for investment and wanted to give it to my kids someday. I put a lot of money into this piece of land figuring I’d be here for a long time,” said Brown, 45.

Footing the bill

Private investment is expected to cover the cost of the project, estimated at $1.3 billion. But the public-private partnership is a concept Brown thinks will fail, leaving taxpayers footing the bill.

Illinois Department of Transportation officials have said the investment would be paid back out of tolls, but the rate is still unknown.

State officials have estimated that the proposed highway will raise $70 million in tax revenue in the first five years and $340 million during a 30-year period, create construction jobs and boost the economy. Supporters also say the tollway will alleviate congested traffic on Interstate 80 and along area roads clogged by trucks from the growing number of intermodal freight terminals in Will County.

But land and homeowners don’t see it that way. Anthony Basile, 72, said he and his wife have attended public hearing after public hearing during the last couple of years to fight against the massive highway project.

But they fear they’re fighting a losing battle.

“We don’t know what to do. We’re pulling our hair out,” Anthony Basile said. “If I could see how this thing was actually going to do a bunch of good for a bunch of people, then I’d go for it. But this is a losing proposition.”

The latest proposed route, presented at two public hearings last month, forces 42 residents, 29 farmsteads and five businesses to relocate, and affects about 3,100 acres of farmland, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation’s latest environmental impact study.

‘It’s still ours’

Just seven miles east of the Basile family lives Virginia Hamann, who operates an 80-acre dairy farm in Will County with her husband, Brian, and father-in-law, Bruce.

People coming from the west on Kennedy Road in Peotone can get a clear view of the Hamanns’ metal pole barn, which Virginia painted last year to send a message to state officials in big, red and bold letters: “No Illiana – This! is! our! farmland!”

Virginia Hamann, one of the leading members of No Illiana For Us, a group of property owners fighting against the project, said she painted the message on her barn when surveyors started coming around her property a couple of years ago.

“That’s when I told my husband I’m painting the side of the barn,” she said. “It’s still ours and I told him I’ve had enough of it.”

Despite steady opposition at public hearings from homeowners and environmental groups, state officials continue to push forward with the project, which must first win federal approval. That’s expected to come as early as May when a team of private investors can be named.

‘I don’t know what’s worse’

While some homeowners will be forced to sell their land, longtime Peotone resident George Lempeotis said the route misses him by about a quarter of a mile.

The massive expressway upon completion would be seen – and heard – just outside his front room window, he said.

“Somebody said this at the last public hearing. If they buy you out and you can move someplace else, you’re better off,” Lempeotis said. “I don’t know what’s worse. No one’s listening to us anyway.”

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