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Article updated: 3/14/2013 9:50 AM

Millburn bypass plans cleared for next step

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After a quiet year or so, public discussion of the controversial Millburn bypass will resurface as the high-priority project nears a milestone that will bring it closer to construction.

A public hearing scheduled by the Illinois Department of Transportation for Thursday, March 21, at Millburn West School, 640 Freedom Way, Lindenhurst, is among the required steps before detailed engineering and land acquisition for a western bypass -- selected from among 18 alternatives -- can proceed.

"The real key message here is this is a top priority project for Lake County that is advancing," said Michael Matkovic, vice president of Christopher B. Burke Engineering Ltd., the consultant on the project.

A primary intent of the hearing is to share results of an environmental assessment that shows, in part, no threatened or endangered plant or animal species will be affected, he added.

"We'll have a lot of exhibits on hand," Matkovic said during a briefing Wednesday.

Traffic bottlenecks have been a problem for decades at what is known as the Millburn Strangler on Route 45 between traffic signals at the closely spaced Millburn Road and Grass Lake Road intersections.

As selected and approved by county, state and federal officials, the solution is a 1.5-mile, four-lane bypass to be built west of the existing Route 45 and the realignment of Grass Lake Road to connect with Millburn Road.

The work also involves bike paths, sidewalks, landscaping, detention ponds and other details. At the open house, a 15-minute continuously running PowerPoint presentation will give: an overview of the six-mile Route 45 study area between Route 132 and Route 173 that includes the bypass; a summary of sessions with stakeholders; planned landscaping and other enhancements; and, projected costs.

Construction of the bypass, which could begin in 2015 or 2016, and the acquisition of 34 acres for right of way, is estimated at about $22 million.

Two sets of large exhibits and renderings showing access points and trails, roadway and drainage plans and the recently approved environmental assessment report will be among the detailed information available for public comment and question from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. A court reporter will take comments for the official record. That report, approved by federal officials two weeks ago, gives clearance for all biological and cultural resources, wetland areas and other features, Matkovic said.

IDOT identified a bypass to the west in 1995 but nothing happened. Fueled by a new source of sales tax revenue, Lake County elected officials also viewed it as a priority, and a new study process began in March 2009. Though a state road, the county board in November 2011 appropriated $34 million for the project.

Residents agreed a solution was needed but were stunned by the selection of the western route, which abuts the Heritage Trails and Forest Trail subdivisions and McDonald Woods Forest Preserve. Critics said an eastern bypass through mostly farm land would have been less disruptive. Three homes will be displaced as part of the western bypass project, but none from the two subdivisions. The western route was chosen because it was the only alternative to entirely avoid the Millburn Historic District, provides better design and compatibility with existing and planned trails and would move traffic better than other options, officials said.

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