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Article updated: 10/11/2013 2:36 PM

Consensus has led to road work progress, Lake County officials say

Crews pave a section of Milwaukee Avenue in Libertyville just south of Peterson Road (Route 137).

Crews pave a section of Milwaukee Avenue in Libertyville just south of Peterson Road (Route 137).

 

Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

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In what still is regarded as a feat of cooperation, local political leaders seven years ago reached consensus on 20 state road widening projects to reduce traffic congestion through Lake County.

So what has happened since?

"There's been a significant amount of progress with the plan but there's a lot more to go," Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor said recently during a progress report titled "One Voice, One Transportation Future" at the University Center of Lake County in Grayslake.

More than three dozen representatives from state and local offices, as well as transportation officials, learned that the highway consensus plan was about 20 percent finished and the cost of entire package in updated dollars has risen from $800 million to about $1.2 billion.

The wish list was the product of local transportation summits held in 2005 and 2006 in cooperation with Lake County's state legislators. Lake County elected leaders approved the recommendations as a blueprint when lobbying for state highway projects. It does not replace annual county or local road programs.

"It certainly was envisioned back then as a long-range strategic effort," said Marty Buehler, executive director of the Lake County Transportation Alliance, who at the time headed the Lake County division of transportation.

Aside from relieving traffic snarls, transportation improvements are critical to economic development, according to Michael Stevens, president of Lake County Partners, the county's development organization.

Three of the widening projects have been completed: Route 83 through Antioch to the Wisconsin state line ($16.1 million); and, two segments of Route 45, from Route 137 to Washington Street in Libertyville and Grayslake ($56.5 million). Two others are in the second year of construction and scheduled to be completed this year: Route 176/Fairfield Road intersection ($22.9 million) near Wauconda; and Route 21 (Milwaukee Avenue) from near Route 120 to south of Route 137 ($32.6 million) in Libertyville.

Just under way is the Rollins Road/Route 83 intersection ($60.4 million) in Round Lake Beach, regarded as one of the most complex and expensive road projects undertaken in Lake County. Coming up is the long-envisioned Millburn bypass of Route 45 ($36.4 million) in Old Mill Creek.

The county itself has made a substantial dent in the consensus list by paying for some projects involving state roads. Money is raised by issuing bonds, a form of borrowing, backed by proceeds from a regional sales tax approved a few years ago.

Milwaukee Avenue/Route 137 was on that list, as were improvements at Fairfield Road/Route 176 and Rollins Road/Route 83. The county also will be funding the Millburn bypass.

However, Buehler noted, the Route 176/Fairfield Road and Route 83/Rollins Road projects are considered intersection improvements, not longer stretches of widened roadways. IDOT has partnered with the county on those projects with in-kind services, he added.

Brian Carlson, program development section chief for the Illinois Department of Transportation, said Lake County's consensus list is considered a model.

"We certainly have been telling other counties about this," he said. "When they (Lake County officials) went to Springfield with that unified voice, they were very successful in getting funding."

But not all has been smooth sailing. The plan to widen Route 45 from Mundelein to Lincolnshire, for example, was envisioned in the 1980s but has been in the initial phase of engineering for years. The construction cost is estimated at $73 million and the overall project cost is pegged at $98.7 million. Most of that 4-plus mile stretch is in Vernon Hills and has frustrated village officials.

"It's good to get consensus but how do they get the funding and move this forward?" said David Brown, the village public works director/engineer.

Carlson said the agency has entered into a contract for the second phase of the project, which involves detailed plans to put out for bid.

"You won't see anything in our (five-year) program but that doesn't mean we're not working on it," he said. Village officials don't expect construction for 10 or 15 years.

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