Tollway hearing draws crowd in favor of Rt. 53 expansion

The prospect of jobs and relief from traffic congestion, particularly an extended Route 53, appeared to outweigh concerns about toll hikes Friday night as the Illinois Toll Highway Authority continued its series of public hearings on a proposed $12 billion improvement plan.

The start of the weekend didn't deter a standing-room-only crowd of more than 200 from filling the Libertyville Civic Center to hear the plans and give their opinions.

While some expressed concern over hefty toll increases to fund a blend of maintenance, improvements and new projects over the next 15 years, a majority of the speakers, well represented by engineers and union building trades, favored the plan.

And building the Route 53 extension, a controversial topic over the past 50 years, took front and center and was supported by several speakers.

While money is included in the proposed plan for studies of a Route 53 extension, local leaders want more.

“It would reduce congestion and open tremendous opportunity for growth and jobs,” Lake County Board Chairman David Stolman said.

“We beg of you, please be flexible. We also need a funding plan for construction. We can't wait another 15 years to see this road built,” Stolman concluded to applause. He co-chairs a large and diverse blue-ribbon committee that is studying the idea.

Patricia Berry, a staff member of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, which covers seven counties in northeastern Illinois, described the proposed toll hike to fund various projects as “a necessary and brave step.”

“Partial commitments are not what our region needs. The tollway's current rates are extremely low,” compared to other areas of the country, she added.

But any increase would hurt consumers, according to Gurnee resident Craig Hall, whose statement was read into the record by state Rep. Sandy Cole of Grayslake. Hall said his annual cost to use the tollways would increase $168.

“On top of gas prices that have skyrocketed in the past two years, this increase will make driving to work more expensive and less affordable for many of us,” he wrote.

Tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur said the proposed projects and methods of funding have been more than 18 months in the making.

“We tried to be responsible and balanced in what it would take,” she said.

The proposed plan, introduced July 28, calls for $8.3 billion in spending to rebuild and widen 61 miles of the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway to Rockford and maintain and repair existing roads.

It also envisions $3.8 billion for new projects including completing the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway and building a western bypass of O'Hare International Airport to connect with the Tri-State and I-90 and building an interchange at I-57 and the Tri-State.

Tollway officials say the proposed plan will create more than 120,000 permanent jobs and add $21 billion to the economy.

The tollway authority suggests increases of 35 cents at a typical 40-cent plaza; 45 cents at a 50-cent plaza; and, 15 to 45 cents at ramps to help fund the projects.

In an alternative proposal, tollway Director Bill Morris of Grayslake said a 15-cent toll increase, with a review every three years, would be adequate.

The plans as proposed would be financed with bonds backed by a toll increase although there are varying suggestions.

Should the Route 53 extension be approved by the blue-ribbon committee, Morris' plan envisions planning to start next year, followed by engineering and design 2013 and construction in 2015-17.

Hearings on Thursday in Geneva and Wheaton attracted standing-room-only crowds. Hearings Friday also were held in Huntley, DeKalb and Belvidere.

Sessions also are scheduled Tuesday from 4 to 6 p.m. at Prairie Center for the Arts, 201 Schaumburg Court in Schaumburg, and from 7 to 9 p.m. at Buffalo Grove's village hall, 50 Raupp Blvd.

The board could vote on a capital plan as soon as next week.

Visit for information on the hearings or capital program. Comments also are being accepted online.

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  More than 200 filled the Libertyville Civic Center Friday night for a public hearing on a proposed $12 billion capital plan for the Illinois tollway system. Mark Welsh/
  State Rep. Sandy Cole of Grayslake reads letters from her constituents about the Illinois Toll Highway Authority’s proposed $12 billion capital plan. Mark Welsh/
  Mike Lee of Hoffman Estates testifies Friday night during a public hearing in Libertyville hosted by the Illinois Toll Highway Authority. Mark Welsh/
  Jay Elliott of Palatine expresses his opinion on the Illinois Toll Highway Authority’s proposed $12 billion capital plan as Kristi Lafleur, executive director, right, and Director Maria Saldana listen Friday night at the Libertyville Civic Center. Mark Welsh/
  Kristi Lafleur, executive director of the Illinois Toll Highway Authority, gives an overview of the agency’s proposed $12 billion capital plan at the Libertyville Civic Center on Friday. Mark Welsh/

Have your say

The Illinois tollway will host more local hearings on its proposed rate hike.

Ÿ 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Schaumburg Prairie Center for the Arts, 201 Schaumburg Court.

Ÿ 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Buffalo Grove Village Hall, 50 Raupp Blvd.