Sunday, January 19, 2014

Illiana Expressway and Summer Hours

Note: I wrote this letter to CMAP--The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning---in  huge rush during the last hour the agency was accepting public comment on whether to include the Illiana Expressway in the GOTO2040 Regional Plan.  Reading it now, I cringe at some of the hyperbole and a tone that the teeters on the edge of deserving what my cousin would label "anti-reality, holier-than-thou-Whole-Foods-hippiness."  BUT, any tone of anger or desperation or exasperation comes from hearing warehouse workers describe their experience working in Will County warehouses,  from experiences of sexual harassment and sexual assault:

to issues over working conditions:

Hearing these stories makes my blood boil.  Is there any reason it really needs to be this way, besides, as Pope Francis said, the tyranny of unfettered capitalism?

I also have a personal, indirect connection to the Illiana Expressway.  The farm where my grandparents lived is right next door to CenterPoint's Joliet Intermodal on Brandon Road and is surrounded by some of the truck traffic that experts say is necessitating the Illiana.  My grandma was one of a few people who rejected a CenterPoint buyout offer.  When considering whether to the sell the place where she raised eight kids with her beloved husband, she concluded: "there isn't enough money in all the kingdom."  My grandpa built basically everything on the farm by hand and since they grew a huge garden each year, planting the new garden is like reliving the past and remembering those who have passed away.  It's tradition to have a huge garden and then in the evening have dinners together  with home-grown lettuce, kale, tomato, cucumber, and onion.   Basically, it was like an American, Midwest version of some of the emotions evoked when the family gathers at the family home in the French Film Summer Hours.  And, like in the film, globalism changes things you never thought would change, whether your brother moves to China to sell shoes for Puma or the night sky is lit up with the huge lights from the intermodal and the sound of the trains is never really out of earshot.  So, here's my letter to CMAP, it's a little out there and rant-ish (and sorry about the hash-tags, it was late) but I think policy-makers and elected officials should seriously look at the issues of bringing back US manufacturing and more middle-class jobs.  If Illinois and Indiana build the Illiana, I would like to see more goods Made in the USA traveling through the heart of Will County.

Dear CMAP,

I am writing to urge that CMAP not support any alignment for the proposed Illiana Expressway.  

I have witnessed thousands of acres of Will County's fertile farmland paved over for suburban sprawl.   Few of the new subdivisions are within walking distances to community gathering spaces and stores.  Most are located around arterial roads lined with boring, ugly, big box stores.  Convenient?  Yes.  Good for the US economy?  Filled with Goods Made in the USA?  Providing family-supporting wages? Sustainable? Not so much. I feel the Illiana Expressway would just lead to more land being paved over for an unsustainable, sprawling warehouse region polluted with truck exhaust. 

Everyone knows one of the main reasons the Illiana is being proposed in the first place is because of the truck traffic coming from the warehouses and the intermodals.  My great-grandparent's farms were sold to the US government to create the Joliet Arsenal.  My great-aunt and other relatives worked in the Joliet Arsenal to produce the TNT that was used in the bombs manufactured for WWII.  When they built Centerpoint-Elwood near the former Arsenal, the job were supposed to help fill the void of employment left when the Arsenal closed.  Instead of good jobs, we got crappy warehouse jobs, to get right to the point.  I work a full-time job and a part-time job so I don't have the time to sort through all the data to say exactly what percentage of the jobs are temporary or what the accurate wage of the workers who get those temp jobs is.  BUT---I desperately hope CMAP has researched this and read articles including ProPublica's article "The Expendables: How The Temps Who Power Corporate Giants are Getting Crushed," and  Mother Jone's article "I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave."  When asked about the issues of low-wages, temp work, and lack of benefits, the people in charge of these temp companies and warehouses sometimes say the warehouses offer an employment opportunity for people with few other prospects.  Is that true?  Probably.  Is that the best this Country can do? No.    We need to support projects that will grow sustainable, environmentally-friendly family-supporting jobs.  We need to bring back manufacturing, not build a super-highway for goods made overseas.  I feel we need to go more towards renewable energy and buy locally.  Basically, what sort of economy would the Illiana support?

Which is not to say I don't see the need to do SOMETHING about the trucks.  Just a few weeks ago I read an article in the Tribune about an entire family who was killed when a semi rear-ended them in a construction zone.  I drive Illinois Route 53 and I-55 almost every day and with the amount of truck traffic it is just a statistical reality that the roads are overloaded and dangerous.  So, I realize that any hippy, true-hugging ideas I have are not as important as the public's safety.  I don't think the Illiana is the only way to make the roads safer, however, and hope CMAP can come up with a better solution.  In a perfect world, we could all drive less-making more room for the trucks--and buy less---creating less demand for the trucks.  Will that every happen?  Who knows.  But, as regional planners, I think CMAP could make the argument that we need to reduce the number of passenger cars on the road to make room for the trucks and use more rail to move the semi-trailers. 

I have heard from a lot of neighbors at the Illiana meetings that they are concerned the State of Illinois is broke and should not be using money it doesn't have to FORCE people to sell their land for a project---or projects if you include the Peotone AIrport---that may or may not happen.  How can you make farmers sell their home, their dream, what they've worked their whole life for, before we even know how the financing would work?  Would the State be stuck with maintaining the Road if the investors go bankrupt?

 I have attended numerous local meetings discussing the new intermodal/warehouse behemoth being built at Ridgeport.  I heard part of it is  going to be for moving lettuce and other produce more quickly from California to the Midwest.  I just could not get over that.  We are paving over our own soil---some of the best in the world---so that we can get our California lettuce.  #Sad #Depressing  #Unsustainable #I Buy Lettuce From California Too Want But Want More Local Options

Disclosure: I am not sure what the rules are for making this comment to CMAP, but, if it matters, I own the YouTube and Blog Channels Will County News and have covered the Illiana Corridor Study Process and videotaped Illiana Public Meetings.  

Thanks for your time in reading this.

Ann Baskerville