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updated: 6/30/2011 7:55 PM

Route 53 expansion inches forward

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If the jury in former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's retrial could reach an amicable consensus on 17 of 20 criminal counts, there's hope for a new Illinois tollway panel looking at options to extend Route 53 into Lake County.

Although 75 percent of county voters approved the concept in a 2009 referendum, it's still a controversial issue among environmentalists and the town of Long Grove, which opposes the proposal.

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Thursday, Illinois State Toll Highway Authority leaders announced the creation of a "blue ribbon" advisory council to look at financing, timing and configuration of the expansion.

The draft proposal the tollway is considering would expand Route 53 by 12 miles from its terminus at Lake-Cook Road to meet up with Route 120.

"The referendum did not include that it be a tolled facility," Executive Director Kristi Lafleur said.

The advisory group would include local and state representatives from various constituencies. "It's better to do work upfront so this isn't stalled as we move forward," Lafleur said. "This will be getting into the nuts and bolts of what it will look like, how it's designed and other elements such as transit or congestion pricing."

Director Bill Morris, who is from Lake County, added, "we're saying that the project is alive and well, so that's a significant step."

But "even though there's consensus in the Lake County political world, there is not consensus environmentally," he added.

Although previous plans indicated a six-lane, elevated highway along Route 53, the agency is considering more environmentally friendly alternates. One concept involves building a four-lane highway with a landscaped median allowing for drainage. Lake County Chairman David Stolman said he was "thrilled" by the announcement, adding the extension was crucial for economic development and reducing traffic.

Other tentative plans call for an expanded Route 53 to hook up with an improved 14 miles of Route 120 from Route 41 to east of Route 59, including a bypass in the Grayslake area.

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