The leading issue that led me to run for County Board is the Longmeadow Parkway Toll Bridge project. Without a doubt, it is the most contested issue facing voters this March. The people of Dundee Township will be able to vote on a referendum instructing municipalities to oppose the project. The one incumbent running for office in a Longmeadow district, Joe Haimann, is being challenged by three other candidates (the highest contest number in any county race), all three of which are anti-Longmeadow. The number of people joining the various groups opposing the project is growing by the day.
Whether you're for it or against it, one thing that can be said about Longmeadow is that what the people actually think about it is different than what the county says people think about it. Former Board Chairman, now State Senator, Karen McConnaughay said in the Daily Herald that there are only about 100 people opposing the bridge. Yet, in early 2015 there were 232 votes at the annual Dundee Township Town Hall in favor of putting an anti-Longmeadow referendum on the ballot! The meeting set an attendance record for the Township, and this was even with a last-minute venue change.
Groups opposing the project have been organizing efforts to stop what has been called a "done deal" for 20 years now. So how did I get involved in all of this?
For me, it all started when a former teacher invited me to a meeting about the old "Bolz Rd Bridge" that everyone thought was dead. What I learned at the meeting really opened my eyes to what the project was all about. I realized that so few people actually knew about it and that for many along the corridor, this project will greatly effect their way of life.
The opposition group was small and scattered, and they didn't even have much of a web presence, so I signed on to help out. At the time, I was planning to launch an educational podcast called the Genius Mind that I am still very excited about. I didn't have the time to work on another big project, but I thought these people deserved a chance to fight it. Their grievance wasn't unfounded.
So I signed up to get involved and have done what I could to help the effort ever since.
Although it has consumed the better part of my free time for the past 9 months, the work has been worth it. I've seen people come together, neighborhoods come alive, politically divided people working alongside each other, and the uprising of hope in a community that thinks that the government does whatever it wants to do and doesn't really care much about what the people think.
I think that's been the most important part of this whole effort: the rise of hope in people. They're so distrustful of government (and as you dig into this issue you see many of the exact reasons why) but when they know that they might be able to have an impact on such a large issue they become empowered. They start to learn about the structures of local government and where power flows. They band up with their neighbors to accomplish tasks and educate each other. They feel like their opinions, and their votes, matter. This is what democracy should do for people. And all of this inspiration came from fighting what has been called a "done deal!"
Some say. . .
Some say this project will decrease traffic congestion. The truth is yes and no. The Wilbur Smith study done by the county shows that there will be negligible decreases in traffic congestion post-Longmeadow. The numbers seem to fall within the margin of error so it's really hard to say what the reduction will be, anywhere from little-to-no reduction is what the numbers tell us. So on the high side there will be a reduction, but so little that it doesn't really matter, and on the low side it will do nothing at all for congestion. KDOT has not addressed this discrepancy as far as I know and that is puzzling.
Some say that we have spent so many millions of dollars on this project with many more millions being promised by state and federal funds, that we can't just give that money back. I say that this is succumbing to the Sunk Cost fallacy, a flaw in thinking, and that we shouldn't spend more money on an unworthy project just because the money is there! Do you invest more into a bad relationship just because you spent ten years together? No! You cut your losses and move on.
Some say that we need another bridge in the area. I agree completely. But I think this bridge is not the right one; it's over-sized and under-funded.
It would destroy the quality of life for all residents along the corridor, from Bolz Road in Carpentersville to the terminus at Longmeadow & Randall in Algonquin. Property values will drop. School children would have to cross a large highway with speeding cars and semi trucks. It would cut through and disrupt the Brunner Forest Preserve, and the pristine and calming area of the Fox River that the bridge is planned to inhabit. It would divert money from existing roads and bridges that are in need of repair and maintenance. It would reward us for suburban sprawl, which follows the simplistic mantra of "build more roads, build more houses!" We need smart growth.
While Longmeadow isn't the only issue worth banging the drum for, it is one of the most important local issues facing voters right now as we head into the 2016 Primary Election. Whether or not this project is actually a done deal as a result of simple inertia, I still think the people deserve a chance to have their voices heard and to work towards this community goal of stopping the project. The results so far have been inspiring.
If you want to know more about the Longmeadow Parkway Toll Bridge project, there are three websites with more information that I recommend, linked below: