Historic Route 66 glided evenly and easily through the state of Illinois in a diagonal direction between Chicago and St. Louis. Then in 1998, a one-mile stretch of pavement along the road in the tiny town of McCook, Illinois buckled and split, making it unusable for the motoring public. The closed roadway sat atop a narrow, pillar-like ridge dividing a deep, century-old limestone quarry operated by Vulcan Materials Company, the second largest mining company and producer of aggregate in the world. Thousands of vehicles along this stretch of Joliet Road between 55th Street and East Avenue were rerouted to other roads.
Transportation Team Involvement
Our client, the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) filed suit against Vulcan in September 2001 contending that company caused the damage by mining too close to the ridge, undermining the road's rock foundation. Vulcan contended the cracks that caused damage to Joliet Road extended much deeper than the company mined. Given Vulcan's 50-year history of mining the McCook Quarry, the case was complex and nearly 20 experts in engineering, rock valuation, geology, traffic patterns, rock mechanics, and seismology were involved. The case was unique on its facts in that there were no cases in the country seeking damages for a permanently broken road. Additionally, the court took the rare step of granting IDOT the right to seek punitive damages against Vulcan.
In May 2010, the Freeborn Transportation Team continued its preparations for an anticipated six-to-eight week trial. Shortly before jury selection was to begin, Vulcan agreed to a $40 million settlement, ending a 12-year dispute. Sadly, because of the road's grave condition, it's doubtful that it can ever be safely reopened. Traffic is detoured onto a two-mile stretch of 55th Street and East Avenue. IDOT applied the settlement funds to upgrading surrounding roadways that experienced an increase in usage after the damaged portion of Joliet Road was closed.