Funding options for 53 extension still elusive

Would private companies and developers help pay to extend Route 53 north into Lake County through a special taxing district? That's one solution to overcoming a cash shortfall, members of a tollway advisory group considered Thursday.

The Illinois tollway has yet to decide on whether to adopt the pricey project, which would lengthen 53 north 12 miles from Lake-Cook Road and connect with Route 120. Tolls on the proposed roadway will pay for only a fraction of the up to $2.87 billion cost, leading to a gap of up to $2.47 billion.

Plans call for a four-lane, 45 mph road with tolls of about 20 cents a mile. The tollway has convened a committee of elected officials with representatives from business, environmental groups and transportation groups to advise it on financing and other issues.

Revenue to overcome the shortfall could come from a variety of sources such as adding tolls on the Tri-State Tollway at Route 132 and the Wisconsin border and increasing the Waukegan toll.

There's also the possibility of creating special taxing districts to subsidize the cost, such as a special service area involving the private sector or a tax increment finance district that would involve local governments.

Either approach would require public or private sector “champions” to advocate for the funding options, financial consultant Mark Briggs said.

But Briggs added that those two ideas would “never come near funding the gap.”

Lake County Chairman Aaron Lawler agreed the advisory group still had work to do. “The important thing is to get everyone on the same playing field about the options and what they mean ... there's not going to be one financing option that's going to get us there, we'll have to look at a whole range of options.”

Other controversial ideas include levying project-specific gas or sales taxes in Lake County or tolling the existing part of Route 53 between Lake-Cook Road and I-90, which several Cook County mayors oppose.

State Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat, asked planners if there was a way to quantify what the extension would mean for Cook County. Nekritz said she needed more information before weighing on tolling the existing road but noted, “there is a Cook County benefit; we need to figure out what that means.”

Another idea is getting local communities to pay for part of the expense of interchanges, tollway planner Rocco Zucchero said.

Lake County considers long-range transportation plan

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