Why Route 53 extension study now includes McHenry, Cook counties

A study to determine the feasibility of extending Route 53 into Lake County has been rebranded to reflect a broader range of possibilities to ease traffic congestion.

Instead of focusing solely on Route 53 and associated work to improve Route 120 in central Lake County, the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority says the Tri-County Access project will consider a range of alternatives to move traffic in Lake, McHenry and northern Cook counties.

“The Tri-County Access Project will assess all alternatives for addressing the region's transportation needs — from an extension of (Route) 53 with improvements along (Route) 120 to other construction options to no construction,” Kevin Artl, the tollway's chief operating officer, wrote in an invitation regarding the Stakeholder Participation Group.

The group is the collection of representatives from various communities, organizations and other interests in the broad study area. It is part of the process to produce an environmental-impact statement regarding a Route 53 extension.

The first public meeting is 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. March 21 at the Round Lake Beach Cultural and Civic Center.

The group was created as part of a $25 million environmental impact study authorized last May by the tollway authority. At first the focus generally was considered the long-proposed Route 53 extension and potential Route 120 improvements.

Now the project area for the rebranded effort will include all of Lake County, eastern McHenry County, north central Cook County and southeastern Wisconsin.

In the invitation to stakeholders, Artl said this will be a “fresh look” at traffic congestion solutions, and the group's input will be “critical” to the study.

Eight meetings are expected to be held through fall 2020, he said. The first meeting will present a project overview and allow for input on “transportations issues and concerns” in the study area.

Lake County communities and leaders differ on the need to extend Route 53 and have suggested upgrades to existing roads as a less expensive solution.

Hawthorn Woods, for example, this week invited residents to the Stakeholder Participation Group meeting in a “A Call to Action on Route 53” on its website. The message asks residents to “engage in the process,” noting the most recent Route 53 alignment contemplates an elevated highway that would adversely affect the village with truck noise, salt spray, signs and lighting.

In December, an opposition group called Livable Lake County filed a lawsuit against the tollway to halt the environmental impact study.

“We're going to participate (in the Stakeholder Participation Group) and hope for the best,” said Grayslake resident Barbara Klipp, who has been invited to attend as head of the Midwest Sustainability Group, which opposes the Route 53 extension.

  Traffic on Route 53 looking north at Lake-Cook Road Steve Lundy/, 2014
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