Kane County residents may get a chance to vote tollway or no way on the pending Longmeadow Parkway project.
County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen wants a referendum to see voters favor supporting the project as a tollway before moving forward with it.
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County officials have studied the parkway project for years. The parkway would extend 5.6 miles from Huntley Road east through the Brunner Forest Preserve to Route 62 and include another crossing over the Fox River.
One study determined charging a user toll is the best way to fund the $117 million project. Motorists would pay $1.50 during rush hours and $1 during off-peak times. The full county board must still vote on the concept of using a toll and the exact amount. But before that happens, Lauzen wants to know if there is enough community support to build a new tollway.
"We have to prove to the rest of the county board that folks in this area want this relief and relief in the form of a toll bridge," he said.
Lauzen called for an advisory referendum to answer that question to be placed on primary election ballots in early 2014. Lauzen said he supports the idea for the parkway, but he needs to see proof that people will pay a toll to fund the bridge.
"We don't have $117 million for this project," Lauzen said. "So we can't afford it otherwise. I've been told by people that if this project would go to referendum there would be overwhelming support for it. Well, prove it."
Unlike the recently opened Stearns Road Bridge west of Route 25, there is no large federal and state financial funding for the Longmeadow Parkway. The county plans to fund the parkway in stages using a mix of capital funds collected through gasoline and sales taxes as well as borrowing $50 million to $75 million. The tolls collected would be used to pay off the loan.
Support for Longmeadow Parkway with tolls is strong among government officials in north Kane County. However, passing a Kane County referendum for a tollway may be challenging not just because of the toll. County transportation officials estimate about 9,000 cars would use the new bridge every day. But the at least half of that would be traffic to and from nearby McHenry County.
To date, McHenry County has not committed any substantial funding for the project. Likewise, Algonquin and Carpentersville would also benefit from the project, but neither has committed funding beyond right of way acquisition.
"What happens if the tolls don't cover the cost?" Lauzen asked transportation division staff members. "There has to be a system of guarantee. We want the folks who benefit the most to have some skin in the game."
The full county board would have to approve the plan to place a referendum on the ballot. Lauzen said he won't support the parkway without a favorable result in the referendum.
It's unclear if the referendum will slow the county's work toward building the parkway. The county has about $11 million budgeted for 2013 to complete the first phase of engineering on the project.