Frustration mounts as Route 53 construction drags on
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Frustration levels in Itasca and Addison are growing about as fast as area commute times as reconstruction and widening of Rohlwing Road/Route 53 continues to drag on.
Illinois Department of Transportation officials once pegged the 4.1-mile, $45.5 million project, which began in August 2011, to be complete by last October. A combination of problems with relocating utilities, weather and delays caused by last summer's Ryder Cup festivities now have pushed the anticipated completion date to Oct. 25 of this year, but IDOT officials say even that is optimistic at this point.
"We've completed 97 weeks on the job and we're 53 percent done. We've got 123 days to Oct. 25," IDOT resident engineer Mike Weaver said Monday. "We're trying to meet that completion day, but will we make it? I have no idea."
Public works officials in both Itasca and Addison said it's time to put the project, which runs from Army Trail Road on the south to the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway on the north, in the rearview mirror.
"Our frustrations with the project are extremely high right now because they've been here so long," Itasca Public Works Supervisor Ross Hitchcock said. "And the burden on our businesses has been huge because they expected to be inconvenienced for one year, not two. Those places (near Irving Park and Rohlwing roads) are taking a huge hit with the limited access to them."
Addison Public Works Director Mitch Patterson said frustrations are mounting there, too, especially among residents and shoppers at the Walmart and Sam's Club shopping center on the southwest corner of Rohlwing and Lake Street.
"We want to make the project a distant memory pretty soon here. It's wearing on everyone's patience and there's little we can do to make it better," Patterson said. "You can only tell folks a moving deadline so many times before it becomes a 'Little Boy Who Cried Wolf' scenario and you lose all credibility with your residents."
Weaver and Hitchcock said the time crunch is even more acute because IDOT intends to begin construction this fall of the Route 53 overpass at the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway.
"We need to wrap this up and get out of the way on the north end so they can begin that project," Weaver said. "And the contractors know they have to do whatever it takes to get out of there so that overpass can go."
Ultimately, Weaver said, many of the problems stemmed from a delay in the state acquiring all of the necessary rights of way and utility easements.
"We can't dig and start yanking utilities out from under property the state doesn't own. We're literally at the mercy of land acquisition and that process takes time," Weaver said. "And once we dig and remove the utilities, it's a detailed process to coordinate the replacement with the contractor."
Weaver said construction also was ordered halted for eight days during the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club. Those eight days have been worked into the extended deadline.
"Even though we're working on Route 53, significantly east of Medinah, we were told there were to be no activities during the Ryder Cup," Weaver said. "Who makes that call and why, I have no idea."
Weaver said contractors also have blamed "unprecedented rainfall in April" for the delay.
It's unlikely any more extensions will be granted, though, because of the timing of the overpass project. If the Oct. 25 date is not reached, Weaver said contractors likely will face fines, or what he called "liquidated damages," based on the number of days the project extends beyond the deadline.
"It's common practice to have roads take longer. It's also common for people to get frustrated about that," Weaver said. "No one wants to be out here any longer than we have to. But the process is similar to what I've experienced about a dozen times. Some jobs just have more utilities than others."
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