In Kendall County, Ill., the race is on. As developers scramble to buy farmland, builders scurry to create homes, and people flock to purchase lots, officials entrusted with providing public works must struggle to keep pace with the growing need for services.

What began in the late 1980s as a trickle of development spilling over from growth in nearby Kane and Will Counties has turned into a torrent of residential and commercial expansion. Based on numbers from the U.S. Census, Kendall County experienced 38% population growth from 1990 to 2000. In a comparison of counties across the nation, Kendall County emerged as the second fastest-growing county by percentage change of population for the year 2003 to 2004 with a growth rate of 8.3%.

This rapid rise in population has brought congestion, increased demand for drinking water supplies, additional loads on wastewater collection and treatment systems, and increased solid waste. In order to meet the challenges of rapid growth and support capital improvements, politicians and employees at all levels of government have worked to create plans, revise ordinances, and secure necessary funding.

The region began this response in the early 1990s, soon after the first stirrings of development hit, with a transportation study. The county worked to gain attention to its growing needs and the state responded by beginning a feasibility study of the area's transportation needs.

Creating the Prairie Parkway

Kendall County lies southwest of Chicago and covers about 322 square miles with an estimated 2004 population of 72,548, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. No interstate highways cross through the county; the roadway system consists of 25% arterial roads (15% of these are rural), 17% minor arterial roads (10% rural), 54% rural collectors, and 4% urban collectors. While the primary travel is in a north-south direction, few high-capacity routes exist to serve this need—most run east-west.

The feasibility study, initiated by the Illinois DOT (IDOT), determined that a north-south high-capacity highway would be needed to serve the region. Because of the rate of development, IDOT also realized that failure to protect the future location of this highway could jeopardize the state's ability to adequately site it. To secure future right of way, a Corridor Protection Study was started in 1999 and completed in mid-2002. Based on this study, IDOT invoked the state's Corridor Protection Act, protecting a 36-mile-long corridor approximately 400 feet wide located in a general north-south direction. The corridor begins at Interstate 88 in Kane County and runs south through the western portion of Kendall County and into Grundy County, terminating at Interstate 80.

With at least one route protected from development and secured for future highway use, IDOT could step back and begin a more detailed route location analysis. In December 2002, IDOT began the Prairie Parkway Preliminary Engineering Study to identify existing and future transportation system performance. In spring 2004, IDOT completed the first of three parts of the study and released a Transportation System Performance Report.

“The Prairie Parkway Study is an $18 million effort consisting of three parts,” said Rick Powell, project engineer for District 3, IDOT. Powell, who has the primary responsibility for overseeing the study, explained each phase. “Part A was completed last April and identified transportation performance, deficiencies, and needs of the region.”

This first part took longer than anticipated due to a lack of regional demographics for some study areas. “A regional planning study had to be done to determine needs,” said Powell. “We had to patch disjointed information together to get a handle on the transportation demands and impacts. This work took about a year to compile.”

IDOT is currently in Part B of the process, which involves identifying and evaluating possible alternative routes. The final part will involve more detailed environmental and technical studies of the routes and result in a route recommendation.