With a bit of Grinch-like remorse, Gov. Pat Quinn’s Illinois Department of Transportation called off Christmas-week appraisals of properties in the path of a proposed expressway south of Chicago.

A real estate appraisal firm working for IDOT recently sent out letters to residents telling them that it needs to be on their land around Christmas to assist the state in acquiring property for the proposed Illiana expressway. (Appraisals are an early step in that process, helping determine the value of a property.)

As we reported earlier this month, the future of the controversial road plan is in question as Governor-elect Bruce Rauner decides whether to move forward with the more than $1 billion project. For IDOT, appraisals continue but no land will be acquired until Rauner has a chance to weigh in after he takes office in January, a department spokesman said.

However, some appraisals scheduled around Christmas were postponed Thursday after transportation officials heard from upset residents, the spokesman said. (The postponement decision was also made after we started inquiring about this.) One appraiser sent out letters to fewer than 20 residents, a small percentage of those to be affected, the IDOT spokesman said.

“We have asked that those requests for on-site inspections be rescheduled for a later date,” the spokesman said, indicating that resident outcry precipitated the decision.

The Illiana would cut through the properties of more than 300 Illinois landowners, he added. Many of the property owners are not happy with the project and don’t want to sell or, ultimately, have their land seized under eminent domain to make way for the pavement.

A spokesman for Rauner did not respond to our requests for comment on the appraisals or questions about whether planning for the Illiana project should go forward. Rauner previously said he would study the road project to determine if it makes sense.

The IDOT spokesman said that the department “will not be taking any major additional steps with this project in the immediate future, including any land acquisition, until decisions are made by the incoming administration.”

Holiday greetings from IDOT

This letter went out to residents in the path of the proposed Illiana expressway.

In one letter, Shonkwiler & Shonkwiler Appraisers in Glen Ellyn announced that its representatives will be on a Wilmington couple’s property Dec. 22 and 23 as it assists the state “in the acquisition of a portion of your property needed to complete the roadway improvements for the Illiana.”

The Dec. 14 letter obtained by the Better Government Association continues: “While you’re not required to attend, it does provide an opportunity for a useful exchange of information concerning your property, the appraisal process and the proposed roadway improvements.”

Wilmington resident Michael Bailey, who owns land needed for the road project and received the letter, was infuriated by the notice. “My first reaction was shock. My second reaction is I’m pissed as hell. . . . I wondered why would someone do this around Christmas time?”

Taxpayers paying for Illiana

A list of payments to Illiana expressway contractors through early September 2014. The BGA obtained the documents through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Source: Illinois Department of Transportation

Craig Shonkwiler, co-owner of the appraisal firm, said he received a work order through state contractor HNTB earlier this month to perform appraisals for Illiana. He said he planned to do as many as 10 to 15 appraisals during the week of Christmas, though residents had an option of rescheduling. An HNTB spokeswoman didn’t return calls for comment. Through early September, Kansas City, Missouri-based HNTB received more than $110,000 in payments for its work on Illiana, according to records we obtained through an Illinois Freedom of Information Act request. (Click here to see what contractors have been paid so far by taxpayers for Illiana planning.)

Earlier this month, federal highway officials gave their blessing to the Illiana, a 47-mile road that would begin near Wilmington south of Chicago stretching into northwest Indiana.

This blog entry was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Brett Chase, who can be reached at or (312) 821-9033. His Twitter handle is @brettchase.

Photo illustration by Katie Drews/BGA.