Old document shows early plans for Millburn bypass

  • Traffic moves along Route 45 at the Grass Lake Road intersection in Millburn.

      Traffic moves along Route 45 at the Grass Lake Road intersection in Millburn. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer, 2008

Updated 11/6/2011 7:10 AM

The voluminous agreement wasn't a secret hidden under floor boards or stowed in a box in the attic.

But as a detail-oriented engineer searched a digital file for information on a trail easement, he quickly realized the 16-year-old document contained other interesting facts concerning what has become a controversial road project.

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In a classic example of finding something of note while looking for something else, John Nelson realized that provisions concerning the relocation of Route 45 near Lindenhurst would be of more widespread interest.

"I was just aware that has been a topic of debate lately," said Nelson, project engineer for the Lake County Forest Preserve District.

What he found in the 1995 document was a single paragraph section that states the county, forest district and village of Lindenhurst agree not to object to or oppose the relocation of Route 45 to the west, nor would they support any effort to do so.

That agreement, county officials said, tied their hands as to what bypass alternative would be best to untangle the so-called Millburn Strangler at Route 45 between Grass Lake and Millburn roads.

Nelson's search was sparked by a question from a resident of the Country Place subdivision in Lindenhurst about turf damage near a trail. Was it private or public property? Who was responsible for repairs?


Nelson examined a lengthy agreement between Lake County, the forest district, Lindenhurst and the Lindenhurst Sanitary District with Westfield Homes of Illinois Inc., dealing mainly with sewers, easements, trails and land donations.

The same document was contained in the county's public works files but went undetected.

Among other things, the pact outlined how Westfield would be granted easements for sewer and water lines through the McDonald Woods Forest Preserve in exchange for more than 8 acres and several buildings comprising the Bonner Farm property.

As Nelson sought an answer in the 190-plus page document, the reference to the planned relocation of Route 45 to the west prompted an immediate alert to top forest preserve and county officials.

"I read it and obviously it was germane to the public discussion that was going on," said Tom Hahn, executive director of the forest preserve district.


He forwarded the information to forest district Commissioner Diana O'Kelly, who as a county board member, chairs the public works and transportation committee. County board members also serve as forest commissioners.

That came a few days before the public works committee would face a key vote on Nov. 2 on whether the county should fund the $34 million project.

The find won't make a difference in the big picture of what has become a controversial attempt to solve a decades old traffic problem.

But could the information have changed the tone of the discussion -- including allegations by some residents that influence outside the facts and figures generated by engineers had a hand in the selection of the western route?

"It would have let everyone know up front what the county could and couldn't do, what the village could and couldn't do," O'Kelly said.

Might Lindenhurst residents who say an eastern bypass through open fields is better than a western route near their homes shifted their strategy or better spent their time?

"It's hard to say exactly if we would have gone in a different direction," said Jason Arnholt, one of the core members of the Eastern Bypass Group. "What we would have done and what we have been doing was pointing out the flaws in the western bypass."

He agreed the state has the ultimate say and said state officials will be the target of the campaign going forward.

Highlights of the agreement last week were presented publicly at both the public works and finance committee meetings. Both approved a resolution to pay $34 million for the project that includes the realignment of Grass Lake and Millburn roads with a western bypass as the preferred route and the state as the lead agency.

The full county board votes Tuesday.

County officials contend the document represents evidence of planning that began long ago. Then as now, the bypass will pass through the McDonald Woods Forest Preserve.

And though the idled project resurfaced in recent years, the most recent planning started with a clean slate. The western option was narrowed by county, state and federal engineers from 18 initial possibilities following a required federal and state process.

But the landscape has changed with two subdivisions having been built. Residents contend their concerns that began with a public meeting in March 2009 have been ignored.

"It is not relevant to the current situation," said Lindenhurst resident Steve Yeaton, a retired engineer. "The question is what is the best thing to do going forward, not how we got here."

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