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posted: 3/4/2013 7:09 PM

Route 53 consultants' contract draws criticism

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  • Daily Herald File PhotoExtending Route 53 north would ease congestion, supporters say. A survey aims to find out how much drivers would pay to use it.

    Daily Herald File PhotoExtending Route 53 north would ease congestion, supporters say. A survey aims to find out how much drivers would pay to use it.


Illinois tollway leaders will spend $4 million for consultants who will develop a detailed plan to extend Route 53 north into Lake County, including surveying how much drivers are willing to pay for it.

The project is envisioned as an environmentally friendly four-lane parkway with a speed limit of 45 mph. But a green road comes at a cost -- between $2.3 billion and $2.7 billion for about 26 miles stretching from Lake-Cook Road to Route 120 and along Route 120 between the Tri-State Tollway and Route 12.

Even charging a suggested 20 cents a mile, a steep rate compared to an average of 6 cents a mile on the rest of the tollway system, won't absorb the entire cost.

Options to cover a shortfall of up to $2.3 million include: charging extra for an express lane during rush hour; levying extra sales or gas taxes in Lake County; and improving and implementing tolls on the existing portion of Route 53 between Lake-Cook Road and the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90).

Tollway directors approved hiring TranSystems Corp. Thursday to draft a detailed design for the road and nail down more exact costs. They also will poll area drivers for their opinions on the proposal.

Buffalo Grove resident Rob Sherman gave the idea a thumb's down and called the survey a waste of money.

"I don't think you need to pay $4 million to ask people if the speed limit should be set at 45 mph or 55 mph or 65 mph. They'll say 65 mph," he said.

He recommended the tollway seek the advice of northwest Cook County mayors and "ask them if they think it's a good idea to charge massive tolls on the northwest portion of Cook County to gift the people of Lake County a new roadway."

But Lake County Transportation Alliance Executive Director Marty Buehler encouraged the agency to pursue the project.

"We believe the tollway board is moving in the right direction," he said.

The tollway has not officially adopted the project although it convened an advisory group that came up with a blueprint in 2012.

The extension would travel past numerous Lake County communities as well as wetlands and forest preserves with rare plants and wildlife. That's partly why the road design includes a lower speed limit and is engineered to reduce damage from salt, storm runoff, noise and lighting.

The authority in 2011 approved increasing tolls for a new $12 billion road building program. Of that $12 billion, $126 million was designated for studies of Route 53 and the Illiana Expressway.

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