Lake County board committees move ahead with $34 million bypass
Lake County should pay $34 million to untangle a perennial traffic bottleneck, known as the Millburn Strangler, while making the state the lead agency on the controversial project, two county board committees recommended Wednesday.
In separate actions, the public works and transportation committee by a 4-2 vote recommended approval of the agreement, followed by a 6-0 affirmation by the financial and administrative committee.
The decisions mean the contentious selection of a western bypass of Route 45 remains intact. And in a quirky development, county officials said they couldn't have opposed that alignment in any case, under the terms of a 1995 intergovernmental agreement unearthed by accident late last week.
"It would have been nice to have been able to tell the residents that from the beginning," said Diana O'Kelly, a board member from Mundelein and chairwoman of the public works committee.
O'Kelly said a bypass through a neighborhood presented a unique situation, but the footprint of the road was protected by the state in 1995.
"Could the county board fund an eastern bypass? That's the question," she said. "No."
The western bypass has generated intense opposition from residents who say the open fields to the east would be a better choice.
The terms of the agreement with the state are similar to that involving the upcoming widening of Milwaukee Avenue north of Libertyville. The county will use funds from a regional sales tax increase authorized in 2008 to make improvements on state routes more quickly.
"We could say 'No' to the funding and this could be delayed 15 or 20 years," said board member Craig Taylor of Lake Zurich, who is on both committees.
The agreement calls for the county to reimburse the state for engineering, construction, right of way acquisition and other items as work is completed.
The full county board next week will vote on the agreement. Pending approval, the action would put the realignment of Grass Lake and Millburn roads and a bypass west of Route 45 at the border of Lindenhurst and Old Mill Creek on schedule to be built in 2014.
Idle since it was originally considered by the Illinois Department of Transportation in the mid-1990s, the project was identified as a priority by elected officials in 2005 and 2006 during transportation summits.
It resurfaced with the new funding source and a review process that included public meetings, and input began in March 2009.
By then, the area to the west had filled with subdivisions. Residents vigorously challenged the choice through a developed area rather than the eastern path through open land, which had been one of the three finalists.
The western route slices through McDonald Woods Forest Preserve and the Forest Trail subdivision and borders the Heritage Trails subdivision.
Board member Jim Newton of Lindenhurst voted against the agreement. He has contended that since the county is paying, the state may be flexible on the route.