Kane County officials inked four contracts worth up to $8.64 million Tuesday, signaling the start of the second engineering phase for the long-anticipate Longmeadow Parkway toll bridge. And the most controversial aspect of the project, the use of tolls to pay for the bridge, gained a new ally in County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen.
Once complete, 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. The $117 million project is more than 20 years in the making, but county officials have long recognized there will be no major federal or state funds coming to the pay for the bridge. That gave birth to the idea for a toll.
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The current plan calls for a $1.50 toll during rush hours and $1 during off-peak times.
Early in his term, Lauzen said he would support the project only if the communities backing the plan could prove their residents both wanted and would use a new toll bridge. Lauzen called for local referendums so residents could show their support, but the leaders of the communities most directly involved, including Algonquin and Carpentersville, pushed back against that idea. On Tuesday, Lauzen said he's come around to their way of thinking.
"What I was looking for was evidence of deep public support," Lauzen said. "I was thinking simplistically that the only form of evidence is a local referendum. That's certainly not the case. The local leaders have done a phenomenal job of passing unanimous resolutions in support in all the communities. And even on a political level, there hasn't been someone who has opposed the toll bridge who has run and won in any of these communities. That's a consensus if I've ever seen one."
Board members have repeatedly expressed regret that the parkway will be a toll bridge. However, they've also backed the plan as the best way to get all the people who will benefit to help fund the construction. At least half of the expected traffic will come from McHenry County.
"This is a much needed project," said county board member Becky Gillam, of Carpentersville, at a recent committee meeting. "It's been needed for years. Although I would love to see this not be a toll bridge, I think this is an aspect of this project that will factor into the McHenry County constituents paying into it as well."
Another controversial aspect of the parkway is the path of the bridge that will cause it to bisect Brunner Forest Preserve. Much of that concern has been limited to fans of the preserve. On a political level, the location of the bridge is not expected to be an obstacle to moving forward as Kane County Board members also serve as the county's forest preserve commissioners.
Once completed, the project will be the largest in the county's history that didn't involve federal funds.