Tollway advises Lake County to ante up for Route 53

Building a road unlike any other Illinois toll road and more expensive than its counterparts will require Lake County to pay its "fair share," several Illinois tollway leaders said Wednesday.

But what the fair share of the up to $2.87 billion extension of Route 53 into Lake County is remained up for grabs after a briefing by members of a tollway advisory group.

The tollway is considering whether to adopt the project, which involves an expansion of Route 53 north to Route 120.

The issue has been debated for decades but in 2013, a Blue Ribbon Committee of Lake County leaders, environmentalists, business leaders and planners came to a consensus. Their plan envisions a four-lane, 45-mph parkway with features such as berms and bioswales to treat polluted runoff and an $81 million trust fund for future environmental damage.

Planners estimate new tolls alone won't be enough to pay for the work, leaving a shortfall of up to $2.6 billion. Some suggestions to bridge the gap include tolls on some Lake County interchanges, extra fees for rush-hour travel, local taxing districts, and converting part of existing Route 53 near Rolling Meadows to a tollway.

The advisory group, which includes local mayors and county officials, think the "local contribution should be a small part of the overall funding solution ... the main source of funding should be the tollway system," a status report stated.

Tollway Director and Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner likened the situation to buying a new car where "besides the base model, you want a sun roof and sound system but in the end, you don't want to pay for those options."

Board Director James Sweeney said he understood the need for the road but noted that the design had unusual features making it more expensive than recent projects such as the extension of I-355.

"It's not fair if the rest of the region is being asked to bear the cost of something unique to the area," Sweeney said.

Tollway directors didn't specify what percentage they wanted Lake County to pay although Sweeney suggested it could be "anything above and beyond the baseline norm that you would be paying."

Tollway Chairman Paula Woolf recalled that the project had a long and controversial history in Lake County. "I don't want anyone to think the tollway is backing off, but it's not something we can solve without the cooperation of the people who voted in the referendum and the people who showed up for the (blue ribbon) committee," she said.

As for the rest of the tollway paying for the extension through a toll increase, "I don't think we're going to revisit a toll increase in the near future," Weisner said.

Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor said the advisory committee "will work to see if we can achieve the same outcomes as identified (in the design) at reduced costs.

Wednesday's "feedback (from tollway directors) will help guide us as we come to some conclusions," Lawlor added.

The advisory committee is expected to finish its report by the end of the year.

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