Amid the small mountains of unearthed pavement and rocks, an array of temporary traffic signals, innumerable orange cones and all manner of heavy duty machines in and around Rollins Road and Route 83, is a ray of hope for drivers.
Rollins between Hainesville Road and Route 83 in Round Lake Beach will close for about three days to through traffic from 7 p.m. Friday until about noon Monday. But the work to be done then and continue the following week is regarded as a milestone in a nearly two-year project to untangle traffic at one of the more frustrating spots in Lake County.
"Oh, definitely," said Mark Molnar, resident project manager/engineer for Alfred Benesch & Co., the consultant overseeing the project for the Lake County Division of Transporation.
"They're installing the crossing this weekend, and then next weekend they can switch the trains onto the new track. It will be on the bridge next weekend."
The multifaceted Rollins Road Gateway project will replace the street-level railroad crossing just west of Route 83 with a bridge to carry about 50 commuter and freight trains each weekday. That bridge, which is supported by two steel girders 12 feet high, 2½ feet wide and 140 feet long, is a key to proceeding with the pavement as Rollins will be lowered to pass beneath and blend into a much wider intersection with Route 83. When complete, both roads will have two through lanes in each direction and two left-turn lanes and a right-turn lane at each leg of the intersection.
Overall, work on what has been described as the most complicated and expensive project undertaken by the Lake County Division of Transportation, is about a third or so complete. Costs are estimated at $69 million, although the county will receive $16 million in reimbursements from various sources.
Once the 3,200 feet of temporary railroad track is removed and permanent track fixed in place June 21, progress on the road work is expected to accelerate.
"It's allowing us to see light, literally," Molnar said. "We expect Rollins to be under the railroad and open to traffic by Labor Day, give or take."
Winter weather and utility relocations have slowed things somewhat, and some ancillary work -- such as sidewalks and landscaping -- may be pushed to 2015.
"We hope to have all the pavement part of the project (complete) by Thanksgiving. That is our goal," said Glenn Petko, engineer of construction for the county transportation department.
"All in all, I think we're in pretty good shape," he added.
Because the immediate area is dense with retail and other commercial uses, Round Lake Beach officials expected to take a hit in sales tax revenue. But it was the harsh winter more than construction issues that had the impact, Village Administrator Dave Kilbane said.
"We haven't seen a significant drop in sales tax along the corridor," he said.
Some drivers, like Bill and Melody Werner of Lake Villa, who expected the worst, have been surprised that getting around has been easier than they thought.
"For major road construction, it hasn't really been backed up very much -- no more than before they started," Bill Werner said outside Mrs. V's Restaurant.
"They were always working all winter long as lousy as it was, which really surprised us," added Melody Werner. "We were thinking, worst case scenario, it would be a nightmare to get through and it hasn't been."