Domenico D'Alessandro's nightmare vision of the Longmeadow Parkway is manifested in a flyer he created.
On one side is an image of Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen, in suit and tie, accompanying a group of children through the woods on the way to school. On the other side, Lauzen and the kids stroll down the parkway, oblivious to the semitrailer trucks about to mow them down.
It's a grim exaggeration of the lifestyle D'Alessandro and opponents expect if the 5.6-mile route -- with a bridge spanning the Fox River that comes with a toll of up to $1.50 -- moves forward. But timing is everything. D'Alessandro and crew are raising these fears just five months before construction will start on a plan in the works for 30 years.
"This project was envisioned when nothing was out here except farmstead," D'Alessandro said. "They are sticking to plans as if nothing has changed. It's illusory. We need to concentrate on what the impact is to people now. Moving forward without updating the facts will be like investing in a stock with information from 20 years ago. Would you do that?"
To stop the bulldozers, they must persuade officials to abandon three decades of plans, $30 million spent on engineering, and return $45 million in state and federal funds committed to the $135 million project.
Kane County Board member Maggie Auger called the late-blooming opposition futile. She and other supporters said the parkway, near the McHenry County border, will ease traffic throughout the northern portion of Kane County, literally paving the way for future regional commercial and residential growth.
"I can't see us saying, 'We wasted $30 million and 30 years; let's not do this,'" Auger said. "The reality is, with these projects, it does take 20 or more years because it takes money to build them. You get a little bit of money, then a little more money and so on.
"These projects don't go very fast, but they do continue to move forward. And these opponents just haven't been paying attention."
Nonetheless, opponents say they now have the voices to kill the project forever. And they've already succeeded in getting a question about the parkway -- advisory only -- on one township's local ballot.
A toll bridge?
Jo Ann Fritz knows there is a Rip Van Winkle aspect to opposing the Longmeadow Parkway at this stage. Like all the opponents, she says the silent buildup to construction made her believe the project would never happen. The parkway, which would stretch from Huntley Road to Route 62, was an idea with no concrete plan, funding or traction.
"We thought with all the new subdivisions that came in the past 30 years and then the drop in the economy that this project was dead," Fritz said. "To do it now is going to take a peaceful, countryside community and just divide it down the middle with a toll bridge."
Many of the homes near the parkway's path were built and sold in the shadow of the project. But even the people selling those homes pitched buyers with no real concern about the looming parkway.
Realtor Karen Goins said she sold many homes in the area with no idea of the magnitude of the parkway plan.
"We just thought they were going to widen the road and maybe make it four lanes," she said. "I never realized they were talking about a toll bridge. I just thought it would stay like it is."
Goins said the expanded parkway would drop home values like a second housing bubble bursting. It won't be "a good thing for the people of the community," she said. "We need to let everyone know we're against it."
The opportunities to express that view and fuel changes may have passed. Various levels of government hosted more than 100 official meetings about the parkway in the past 30 years. Studies detailed environmental impacts, financial feasibility and traffic congestion. The results were all shared in public. Multiple votes were taken at several government levels to proceed.
But there's some evidence to suggest Fritz was in good company in thinking there was much yet to be discussed before the parkway became a reality.
The county board's vote to approve the parkway in July 2010 came with no public comment, debate or fanfare. There was no funding for the project at that time except for a proposed $1.50 toll. Commuters don't like tolls, and county board elections were less than four months away.
For years after that, the quiet work of engineering and land acquisition was all that progressed. It wasn't until October 2013 that the parkway again became enough of a topic to raise some eyebrows.
That's when representatives from the Northern Kane County Chamber of Commerce and the Aurora Regional Chamber of Commerce visited the Kane County Board Jobs Committee. When the Longmeadow Parkway came up, business leaders gave it a ho-hum reception.
"Our perspective is that there hasn't been anything going on," Melissa Hernandez, president of the Northern Kane County Chamber of Commerce, said at the time. "When our people talk about it they really question whether or not it's going to happen."
More telling, Hernandez told the committee her chamber didn't support the $1.50 toll bridge for the parkway because most people believed McHenry County residents would reap most of the benefits of the project.
Committee members were shocked, but they didn't start a public awareness campaign, either. Hernandez wouldn't be highest-level official to cast some doubt on the fate of the project.
In January 2013, shortly after Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen took office, he called for a referendum to see if voters would support the tollway before endorsing the project. When the 10 municipalities that already passed resolutions supporting the parkway balked at that idea, Lauzen backed off the referendum call and became a full supporter.
"How the opponents may be looking at this, it's a local perspective versus we've got to make the decisions that are going to be serving the entire region," Lauzen said earlier this month. "Nothing is ever unanimously supported. Part of our job is to respect all that and to try to serve the best interests of the entire majority. I think that's what been done."
Trolling the bridge
But now there will be a parkway referendum that comes without Lauzen's endorsement. Earlier this month, 235 Dundee Township residents stormed a township meeting and voted a question onto March 2016 ballot.
The question urges officials to reconsider support for the parkway. But because the next election won't come until after the scheduled start of construction on the project, opponents aren't resting. They found encouragement that Carpentersville Trustee Pat Schultz decried the project during the township meeting. The plan is to press Schultz and the Carpentersville village board to retract parkway support with a new resolution against the project. Schultz did not respond to an interview request.
Fritz said she will also ask Barrington Hills officials for a resolution against the plan. She believes it may take politicians to sway other politicians.
"The politicians have told us this is a done deal," Fritz said. "Politicians say things like that as a ploy to make citizens feel helpless and powerless. This is not a done deal. For them to say so is deceitful."
Count Auger and fellow county board members Joe Haimann and Becky Gillam, whose districts encompass the planned tollway, among the politicians who believe the parkway is a done deal. Auger won re-election in November. Her opponent, Kevin Smith, opposed the magnitude of the parkway plan and the toll. Auger attracted 60 percent of the vote. She sees that outcome as its own referendum on the parkway.
"It's not like I've been hiding my support," she said. "I've won three elections with the same position."
Auger said next year's Dundee Township referendum outcome won't sway her. There is nothing that can or should derail the project at this point, she added.
Lauzen agreed, saying northern Kane County is overdue for a meaningful roadway improvement project.
"We've brought not only the $30 million that's been spent, but a huge $45 million from the state and federal government," he said. "I ain't sending that back."
Fritz views those dollars as wasteful spending. On a sunny Friday, she pulled her car to the side of a road that gives her a view of a stand of 100-year-old oak trees and a stretch of farmland that will all be paved when the toll bridge comes through. To her, there's no more beautiful sight in the area. She thinks about that view vanishing forever. She thinks about students like the ones she once taught at nearby Perry Elementary school being divided from their future peers at Dundee-Crown High School by four-lane highway.
"It continually breaks my heart over and over whenever I think about this parkway," Fritz said. "If this project goes forward, they are going to have a thousand people in chains out there when they come to start construction. I would do it."