Panel to study potential Route 53 cost savings

The costs of innovations associated with the proposed Route 53 extension north into Lake County will be examined for possible savings, but environmental protection will remain a top concern, officials said Monday during a recap of the $2.87 billion project.

Leaders of a finance committee advising state tollway officials on ways to fund the Illinois Route 53/120 project said the agreement among varied interests to proceed hinges on that being the case.

“We must think of the impact of the road design on future generations,” said George Ranney, co-chairman of a blue ribbon committee of local, business and other leaders. Last year, the group reached a consensus on a four-lane parkway with a 45 mph speed limit and a host of protections.

“Let me tell you, it (consensus) was fragile and if we divert in any meaningful way, you're going to end up with environmental and other groups opposing this,” Ranney said.

About two dozen local officials and others who comprise the finance committee gathered at the Lake County Central Permit Facility for a recap of the project as presented to a tollway board committee in May, as well as outstanding issues and next steps.

Preliminary costs of innovations, such as roadway design, environmental protection measures and a special fund for long-term monitoring, are pegged at $450 million to $600 million, and one of the next steps is to look for savings.

“We're not developing detailed roadway plans at this point, but we're looking at it conceptually as best we can. We're looking at refinement of our scope and refinements of our costs,” said Mike Matkovic, an engineering consultant for the committee.

Tolls alone won't come close to paying for the road, and various possibilities are being considered to make up the shortfall. Tollway directors have stressed that public participation is needed for the project. What constitutes that or how much it should be has not been determined.

The innovations were among measures identified by the committee as being a necessary part of the process rather than additions.

“The richness of Lake County's natural resource base is exceptional and presents a particular challenge for any road project,” said Michael Sands, head of the blue ribbon committee's environmental group.

The committee next will look to adjust the parameters of some measures, such as depressed or elevated roadways or wetland mitigation, for example.

One element not on the table is the $81 million fund for long-term monitoring.

“The environmental stewardship fund is not up for discussion,” Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor said. “We all know the things that make this consensus work and I don't want to jeopardize that.”

A final report on potential cost refinements, local funding options and other financing details is scheduled for discussion July 29. A recommendation to the tollway board is expected by the end of the year.

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