State asks Lake County for snow plowing help

Lake County officials face an unexpected challenge as they prepare for the salting and snowplowing season.

The Illinois Department of Transporation is asking whether it can pay the county to plow 217 lane miles of state routes. Similar requests are being made in other geographic areas, IDOT officials confirmed, but they did not identify those areas.

"As a precaution, while awaiting new equipment, IDOT is taking proactive steps by reaching out to certain local governments in the collar counties to gauge if they would be willing to perform snow removal responsibilities on secondary state routes on a limited and reimbursable basis - areas where they would have crews already deployed during weather events," IDOT spokeswoman Gianna Urgo said.

IDOT officials have not said how much money has been budgeted for those contractual plowing requests.

Lake County is considering taking on about 107 state lane miles: Route 45 from Route 60 to the Wisconsin state line; Route 21 from Adler Drive in Libertyville north to Route 41; and Route 134 from Route 12 to Route 120, according to county engineer Paula Trigg.

During the final two years of the Quinn administration, IDOT was not permitted to purchase new plows and trucks, Urgo said. This "lack of foresight" and the inability of lawmakers to pass a balanced budget last year created a need to replenish IDOT's fleet, which was deteriorating due to normal wear and tear, she added.

New equipment purchases were authorized after a stopgap budget was approved this summer, but it typically takes as long as a year for the items to be assembled and delivered, according to Urgo.

That means agencies such as Lake County's division of transportation are being asked to assist this season.

"They do not feel they will have the appropriate number of serviceable plow trucks to maintain their regular level of service," Trigg told county board members. She also contacted municipal public works directors and township highway chiefs and suggested they contact IDOT directly if they can assist.

Such agreements are not uncommon. For example, Libertyville has a 10-year maintenance agreement with IDOT to plow Route 21 (Milwaukee Avenue) south of Adler Drive and Route 176 in the village.

Lake County officials are examining operations to determine how much help may be available.

"We don't know yet. We've got to get the trucks and personnel," said Kevin Kerrigan, engineer of maintenance. "We think we can take on some miles, maybe half" of what is being asked. Lake County has 26 routes and 28 plow trucks to cover 844 lane miles.

He said the county is looking for three trucks to lease or buy and would add as many as six paid-on-call drivers to its current roster of eight.

"We're asking around to the villages and townships if they have vehicles they're auctioning off," Kerrigan said. "We want to make sure they can handle the work for a full season."

Trigg said there are several issues to work through before recommending an agreement with IDOT that would need county board approval. She said there's concern if state roads are not plowed in a timely manner, more traffic will be diverted to county roads, creating congestion.

"We believe that without our participation, residents in Lake County will be the ones to suffer the inconvenience of poorly plowed state roads," Trigg said.

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