Route 53/120 study, now the Tri-County Access Project, has 'no preconceived ideas,' leaders say

A rebranded effort to ease traffic congestion in Lake County and its surroundings comes with the promise of a blank slate by organizers and wariness from skeptics.

A plan that had focused on the extension of Route 53 north into Lake County with corresponding upgrades to Route 120 has been rebooted and expanded with the same mantra of improving traffic flow in the face of growth and worsening congestion.

What now is known as the Tri-County Access Project was on public display Wednesday at Countryside Banquets & Conference Center on Route 120 near the Lake-McHenry county border in Lakemoor for the first open house in a three-year process to determine what will work best to address those issues.

Roughly 280 people stopped during a three-hour window to view a short video, browse exhibits and question one of many transportation professionals on hand.

While a lot of the information on display was familiar, organizers say this is a new ballgame for an issue that has ebbed and flowed for more than 50 years.

"We're trying to take a step back and look at the big picture," said Rocco Zucchero, chief planning officer for the Illinois tollway. "There are no preconceived ideas of what the solution is."

Tri-County Access is described as a "comprehensive regional study" to identify and evaluate options - including a no-build alternative - across a 1,000-square-mile area that includes 80 communities in Lake, eastern McHenry and northern Cook counties.

Some at the open house were skeptical of the process.

"This thing (Route 53) didn't get built 40 years ago and it won't get built today," said Round Lake Mayor Dan MacGillis. "This is a marketing plan to get public support, but the barriers still exist."

The tollway is sponsoring the effort and is joined by the Federal Highway Administration and Illinois Department of Transporation. The Tri-County Access Project is a wide-ranging $25 million tollway-funded study.

Open houses and other elements are part of the federally mandated Environmental Impact Statement to discuss the need for the project and alternative courses of action, analyze the potential impacts of each alternative, and describe how to minimize harm to the environment.

"This truly is the kickoff," Zucchero said. More open houses as well as stakeholder meetings are planned.

Unlike the 53/120 proposal that focused on a specific road and route, the options in this process are open, Zucchero said.

Environmental groups and others who oppose a Route 53 extension, including the villages of Hawthorn Woods and Long Grove, say routes 120, 83, 60, 22, 12, and the northern segment of Route 45 should be widened and trains should be separated from roads at problem spots such as routes 120 and 83 in Grayslake or Route 60 and Butterfield Road in Mundelein. Investments also should be made in mass transit, they say.

Project materials say Tri-County Access will "leverage" past studies and integrate innovative technologies and engage stakeholders in the process.

"There is a lot of interest in this project, but it's not centered in Hawthorn Woods or Long Grove," tollway spokesman Dan Rozek said.

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  Visitors examine exhibits Wednesday during the first open house of the Tri-County Access Project, a $25 million study of transportation options funded by the tollway. Mick Zawislak/
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