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updated: 12/2/2013 5:38 AM

Save time or money on extended Route 53? You decide

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  • Will drivers pay to drive on an extended Route 53, which now ends at the Lake County border?

       Will drivers pay to drive on an extended Route 53, which now ends at the Lake County border?
    Gilbert Boucher II | Staff Photographer, 2008

 
 

Do I want to pay $3.45 instead of 95 cents to travel from Arlington Heights to Libertyville 12 minutes faster? How about $2.95 rather than 95 cents to shave seven minutes off my commute?

Or what about $1.20 for a savings of six minutes?

My brain hurts after completing the Illinois tollway's online Route 53/120 project feasibility study.

The survey team at RSG Inc. offered 10 scenarios comparing my current route (the Jane Addams Tollway to the Tri-State to Route 176) with the proposed Route 53 extension up to Route 120 into Lake County.

"The goal of the tollway's survey is simply to assess customers' willingness to pay to use the new roadway," tollway Communications Chief Wendy Abrams said.

As background, Lake County's been mulling and fighting over whether to extend Route 53 for years. But a 2009 referendum where a majority of residents supported the idea led to the tollway taking the project under its wing -- sort of.

Problem is, no one's sure how to pay for the construction.

The tollway is fronting planning costs, which included shepherding an unlikely coalition of elected officials, environmentalists, engineers and businesses (also known as a Blue Ribbon Committee) that reached a consensus in mid-2012.

The reason they agreed is the unique design -- a beautiful parkway with high-tech features like bioswales and low speeds of 45 mph maximum designed to protect fragile wetlands and species along the route.

Such beauty comes at a price -- $2.5 billion or so -- and there's a significant funding gap that tolls on the extension won't pay for. Keep in mind the tollway is anticipating levying tolls of 20 cents a mile on the route, compared to 6 cents on the rest of the system.

Here's what else the survey wanted to know. Would I rather pay:

95 cents for 53 minutes using the Jane Addams and Tri-State or $1.45 for 49 minutes on the new Route 53 extension?

95 cents for 53 minutes using my current route or $2.70 for 45 minutes on the new extension?

And, how likely would I be to share my car with two others if a 10 percent discount was offered for carpoolers?

Ever the cheapskate, I opted for 95 cents in the first two questions.

The carpool question was tough, generating multiple trains of thought. I support carpools, but my trips into Lake County are either on a reporting assignment when I'm alone or into Wisconsin for family vacations when we take the Tri-State. (But if the Tri-State is backed up, say on a July Fourth weekend, would we try the Route 53 extension? I can visualize the argument with my husband now ...)

The tollway has not yet voted on whether to build the extension.

The Blue Ribbon Committee is engaged in analyzing funding options to find something that is "financially viable, fiscally sustainable and equitable," Abrams said.

One reader who did the survey complained the consultants didn't ask if people would just as soon avoid paying tolls altogether and use existing highways. Another gripe was that the survey, which costs $107,000, didn't explain the Route 53 funding issues.

Abrams explained that "questions posed in the survey are purely directed at understanding an individual's decision-making when there are trade-offs between travel time and tolls paid. Assuming time and budget management plays into most people's daily decisions, takers of the survey should be able to answer these questions irrespective of having information about the cost of the project and its funding gap."

And if you want to check out the survey, keeping in mind it's for people who drive into Lake County, go to rsgresearch.com/i13205/survey/1/en-us? bl=1&anon=true.

One more thing

The Route 53 proposal also includes improving Route 120 from Route 12 to the Tri-State along with a Grayslake bypass.

Options for making up the shortfall include: adding tolls on the Tri-State Tollway at Route 132 and the Wisconsin border or increasing the Waukegan toll; levying project-specific gas or sales taxes in Lake County; and tolling the existing part of Route 53 between Lake-Cook Road and I-90, which several Cook County mayors oppose.

Your voice

This Thanksgiving season, I'm thankful for you! Keep reading, commenting, questioning and setting me straight.

Kevin Cutton of Arlington Heights said last week's column about the summer's Metra scandal makes him wonder "why no one is being held accountable by federal, state or county attorneys? There seems to be a pattern in this country when no one is being held accountable for lying, corruption or malfeasance," Cutton wrote.

And, the Daily Herald's Jim Slusher had an interesting tidbit about the dismantling of a tollway while visiting his son in Atlanta.

"There were signs all over the place to the effect of 'We keep our promises!'" Slusher said.

"Apparently, the system had promised that once the tollway was paid for, they'd take down the booths and make it an open road.

The last day for tolls was Nov. 22.

"My son said the tolls in Atlanta were supposed to be taken down years ago, but the financial arguments were made to keep them up a while longer. And, the most interesting thing of all to me was that on the day the tolls were to be removed, the booths weren't all taken down yet, and at each station they had a person standing on the cement blockades in front of the booths waving an orange flag to let people know they could drive through without paying."

Got a comment on Route 53 or an interesting observation from holiday travels? Drop me a line mpyke@dailyherald.com or follow me on Twitter @dhintransit.com.

Paws-itive petition

Our 60-pound badly behaved dog wouldn't make the cut, but Rhonda Church of Aurora is hoping an online petition will persuade Metra to allow small animals on trains in carriers.

"Welcoming pets on Metra will not only be good for riders and pets but will encourage the use of Metra, which is good for the environment," Church advocates in the petition.

"It will also increase attendance at the many dog-friendly events that take place in the region, which will help boost our faltering economy." To learn more, go to www.change.org/petitions/metra-allow-small-animals-in-carriers-on-metra-trains-2.

Metra officials said they would review a petition if it was presented, but there are no plans at this time to change the policy.

Upcoming

Pace will hand out Ventra cards from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Wheaton Metra Station, 402 W. Front St., and Friday at the Northwest Transportation Center in Schaumburg, and from 6 to 9 a.m. Thursday at the Crystal Lake Metra Station, 70 E. Woodstock Ave.

You should know

Metra's hosting a Toys for Tots drive on Dec. 11 at all downtown stations. Riders can drop off a new, unwrapped toy that will be donated to less fortunate children. Collection boxes will be staffed from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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