Lake County authorizes $34 million for Millburn bypass
The choking traffic of the Millburn Strangler is on track to finally be untangled with the decision Tuesday by the Lake County Board to authorize $34 million for the project.
By a 20-2 vote, the county board authorized an agreement with the state appropriating the funds for the project that will create a four-lane bypass west of Route 45 and realign Millburn and Grass Lake roads as the solution to a perennial traffic knot.
In the end, county officials determined that since they had the means, via a 2008 increase in the regional sales tax for transportation projects, it was time to get traffic moving.
As it is with the pending widening of Milwaukee Avenue north of Libertyville, the Illinois Department of Transportation will be the lead agency. Construction is anticipated in 2014.
How best to tame the Millburn Strangler -- a bottleneck caused by a pair of traffic lights in proximity along two-lane Route 45 -- has become a hot topic, not because of the need but because of the location.
Opponents of the western route say their opinions have been ignored.
The bypass will cut through a corner of the McDonald Woods Forest Preserve, split one subdivision and border another, rather than taking an eastern route through an open area.
"We want to see the problem fixed as much as anyone else," Lindenhurst resident Steve Yeaton told the board before the vote.
"We want a bypass but not an unsafe one," added Lindenhurst resident Patti Douglas. "The whole process with the Millburn bypass has been a disappointment. The decision to go with the western bypass was made a long time ago and wasn't going to change no matter what."
A western bypass was identified by IDOT in 1995 as the solution to the Millburn Strangler, but it never moved forward. Identified again as a priority by Lake County elected officials in 2005 and 2006, the project got legs when the sales tax money became available.
A new study process began in March 2009 in which 18 options were narrowed to three. The preferred western route was selected by county, state and federal engineers this past summer, a decision that stunned residents, who contended the eastern route would be less disruptive.
The western route was chosen because it offered better performance, avoids the Millburn Historic District and unmarked graves and has the greatest potential for trail connections, among other factors, engineers determined.
A recently uncovered document from 1995, which in part allowed for sewer and water lines for the residential development in exchange for the Bonner Farm property, "tied the hands" of county officials, according to Diana O'Kelly, a board member from Mundelein who chairs the public works and transportation committee.
Under terms of the agreement, the county, Lake County Forest Preserve District and the village agreed not to object or oppose the western route, which was delineated at that time.
"It shows us the evidence of long term planning," county Board member Bonnie Thomson Carter of Ingleside said before the vote. "It's important we learn what we could have done better through this process."
Board member Jim Newton of Lindenhurst voted against the measure, saying the old agreement could have been changed.
"This is a tremendous amount of money. I do believe we could have negotiated with the state to study the options further," he said. Board member Michelle Feldman of Deerfield also voted against.
Residents were assured the county would represent their interests as noise, safety and aesthetic issues for the western bypass are considered in advance of a public hearing expected early next year.