At 45 mph, the proposed extension of Route 53 into Lake County would be friendly to wetlands, wildlife, businesses and almost everything but speeders, supporters say.
Illinois tollway directors made no decisions Wednesday on whether to undertake extending Route 53 by 12 miles from Lake-Cook Road north to Route 120. Costs estimates range from $2.2 billion to $2.7 billion for the project, which includes improvements to a 14-mile stretch of Route 120.
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Because the road would be near sensitive wetlands and nature preserves with endangered species, the design crafted by an advisory group calls for four lanes, low speeds, building the road below grade in certain areas or using tunnels, and providing funds for land preservation and restoration.
Tolls of 20 cents per mile would pay for only part of the work, so the advisory group recommended instituting other tolls on the Tri-State in Lake County, tolling the existing part of Route 53 between I-90 and Lake-Cook Road, expediting construction and congestion pricing -- meaning drivers pay higher rates during peak periods.
"We think these are very conservative estimates, but the costs could come down. It's very early in the process," Executive Director Kristi Lafleur said.
One constituency the road won't be friendly to is Cook County drivers, contended Buffalo Grove activist Rob Sherman. He objected to putting tolls on the existing part of Route 53.
"It's not fair, it's not reasonable and not convenient for the people of Northwest Cook County," Sherman said. "It's turning a system of user fees into nonuser fees."
The agency wouldn't just institute a toll on existing Route 53 -- it would reconstruct and rebuild it, tollway planner Rocco Zucchero said.
But tolling a freeway won't be an easy sell, and battle lines are already being drawn.
Not surprisingly, while numerous Lake County leaders back tolling Route 53 north of I-90, several Cook County mayors hate the idea, including Schaumburg's Al Larson and Rolling Meadows' Tom Rooney.
The project could be an economic savior for Lake County, which was hit hard this week by the announcement Motorola is moving its headquarters to Chicago, officials said.
"We beseech you to move this forward; it's historic," Lake County Chairman David Stolman said. "It would sustain economic development ... we are still to this date losing businesses."
The tollway might help pay for Lake County towns to produce a "corridor land-use plan" that coordinates housing, job creation, zoning and economic development along the extension.
Asked if that went beyond the agency's mission, Lafleur said only a small amount of funding would be used, if it's used.
"Ultimately, economic development impact and making our facility work for the communities it's going through are important to the tollway," Lafleur said.
"The project will impact 20 communities overall -- each with disparate and outdated land use plans. If these plans aren't compatible with our current roadway plans, the corridor will not operate as it should. That's not a risk we're willing to take. Effective land use planning can ultimately impact the financial return to the tollway and enhance regional development along the corridor."