Debate continues Millburn Strangler bypass
A preferred route to bypass a notorious traffic snag in north central Lake County was selected months ago but neighbors are still fighting to delay or modify the plan.
There is no argument that jams on two-lane Route 45 between Grass Lake and Millburn roads on the border of Lindenhurst and Old Mill Creek need to be untangled.
But the location of the path west of Route 45 chosen to skirt the bottleneck known as the Millburn Strangler, has become the talk of the town.
Residents are frustrated and transportation officials are being peppered with questions.
And recently added to the mix is a request for a clarification of the selection process and what role the Lake County Board has in the location of the route -- matters scheduled to be discussed Wednesday by the board's public works and transportation committee. The item has been included on the agenda for information only and no votes are scheduled.
"We owe them an easy-to-understand explanation," Lake County Administrator Barry Burton said. "It's not exactly clear to the public, and it's not clear to me and I do this stuff for a living."
What decisions are left to be made and who makes them are other questions to be answered, he added.
Jim Newton, a county board member from Lindenhurst, said he would vote against the western route if given a choice. "We should have the right to weigh the question," he said.
At issue is Alternate 4A, winnowed by a group of county, state and federal transportation officials from 18 initial possibilities and three finalists -- two west and one east of Route 45.
The selected route slices through the McDonald Woods Forest Preserve and the Forest Trail subdivision and skirts the Heritage Trails subdivision on the west side of Route 45. It also calls for the realignment of Grass Lake and Millburn roads.
Despite an extensive public input process that began with an informational meeting in March 2009, residents claim their wishes have been ignored.
Engineers involved with the process say the decision was driven by facts.
Why, residents ask, couldn't the bypass be routed through open fields east of Route 45, where the disruption of a new four-lane road would be minimized?
"It's a community safety issue," Lindenhurst Mayor Susan Lahr said. "There's got to be a better viable alternative that takes into account the human population." Residents, who have formed the Eastern Bypass Group and posted a website on the issue, contend the advantages for travel times and other measurements noted by engineers for the west route are not significantly different for the west and east choices.
"Even though the western bypass might be more efficient ... you really need to look at the environment and the community," said Jason Arnholt, a Forest Trail resident and a core member of the group. "The community impact outweighs the efficiencies."
Residents say realigning Grass Lake and Millburn roads -- they are 330 feet apart and each has traffic signals -- would ease a lot of the congestion and allow time to reconsider the location of the bypass.
"I don't understand why it's all or nothing," Lahr said.
Opponents also have been critical of an estimated 6-second time saving at the Grass Lake/Millburn intersection for the west bypass during the evening rush hour.
"All of this disruption is going to occur for 6 seconds?" Lahr asked.
Engineers say that figure is a snapshot amid the data and taken as a whole, the differences for the western route are significant.
"We listened to everything they had to say," said Paula Trigg, director of planning and programming for the Lake County Division of Transportation. "The decision was all based on facts. What's taken out of that is the emotion."
The western route would result in the lowest cumulative travel time; lowest cumulative travel delay; and, best level of service at Grass Lake/Millburn Road, according to information provided to the county by Diane O'Keefe, deputy director of highways for IDOT.
The eastern bypass also was less desirable because of a significant curve required to avoid wetlands in the area, and was a key factor in the decision, according to engineers.
The selection was made by the Project Study Group, which consists of the Lake County Division of Transportation, Illinois Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration.
Besides better transportation performance, Alternate 4A was chosen because it avoids the Millburn Historic District and has the greatest potential for future trail connections.
O'Keefe and others note a west bypass alternative was recorded by IDOT in the mid 1990s before the homes were built. The Lake County Forest Preserve District also has been aware the highway corridor was being preserved and has not made any improvements at McDonald Woods.
The county has been the lead agency on the bypass and has funded the first phase of the process, which is nearing an end.
Funding for the second phase, which is road design, needs county board approval. Should that be withheld, the situation would remain as is unless or until IDOT decided to proceed with funding.
The bypass is part of a 5.5-mile Route 45 corridor study from Route 132 to Route 173 that is required for the bypass or entire stretch to be eligible for federal funding.
Data and other information on the Route 45 bypass are posted at http://www.route45project.com