Kane County may turn to a public/private partnership, similar to how Chicago handles the Chicago Skyway, to find at least some of the money needed upfront to build the Longmeadow Parkway. And tolls will almost certainly be the main method to pay off debt and fund long-term maintenance.
County board members reviewed financing ideas for the $117 million Fox River crossing at the border of Kane and McHenry counties. The parkway would extend about 5.6 miles from Huntley Road east through the Brunner Forest Preserve to Route 62. Both an independent commission and a previous county board have backed the idea of a toll to finance the construction debt. The current plan calls for a toll of $1.50 during rush hours and $1 during off-peak times.
The concept of a public/private partnership was introduced for the first time Tuesday as board members met with companies presenting various financing options. Selling various forms of bonds, seeking low-interest federal loans, saving up impact fees and attempting to lure state funds were all discussed as options.
But the underlying theme was the county can't afford the parkway out of its own pocket without some form of creative financing that the county hasn't used in the past.
"The need is certain," said county board Chairman Chris Lauzen. "Another certainty is that we cannot afford a $117 million project. It's a choice between not being able to afford any bridge or building a toll bridge. For folks that say, 'I'm really opposed to tolls,' it's OK. If you don't want to pay a toll, you should not use this bridge."
But the idea of toll hatred being enough to sink the long-term financing of the debt that will be associated with the bridge has been enough for Lauzen to call for a referendum on the project. However, clarifying an earlier position, Lauzen said the referendum should be done on a regional basis by the 10 communities most affected by the potential parkway, not by the county.
A countywide referendum on a tollway may have a steep uphill battle as many residents in the southern portion of Kane County may never use the parkway despite the full faith and credit of the taxpayers being on the line with any bonding.
"It is a regional issue," Lauzen said. "But I can tell you the leaders in those local communities are vehemently opposed to putting a referendum on their ballots."
While the local buy-in may remain cloudy without those referendums, Lauzen said he wants to follow the example of Winnebago County's Frank E. Bauer Bridge and truly commit to having a bridge with a toll that will expire when the construction debt is paid off.
Lauzen said there is no way to ensure a future county board won't try to keep the toll in place. However, the current county board can build the promise into the financing contract for the project, creating a more solidified commitment to a temporary toll, Lauzen said.
Conservative estimates predict a gross of $371 million through the toll at the parkway over a 40-year time frame.