Consensus near on Route 53 extension?
It was a daylong meeting with multiple handouts, expert testimony, myriad graphics and maps.
So I'll try to summarize in a paragraph.
The Illinois Tollway is convening elected officials, environmentalists, planners, labor unions and road builders to decide if and how Route 53 should be extended north to Route 120. The alternatives include a no-frills non-tolled Route 53 extension, a tolled, four-lane parkway and a mega six-lane tollway.
Lake County has spent years debating what to do with Route 53, which ends at Lake-Cook Road, and the lack of funding has extended the discussion. But the tollway included planning for the project in a new $12 billion capital plan (paid for with higher tolls).
Here's a closer look at some of the options presented at a meeting of the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority's Route 53/120 Blue Ribbon Advisory Council Feb. 9.
• A 45 mph parkway-type tollway costing between $1.7 billion and $1.9 billion. The plan would reduce congestion in Lake County by 16 percent and save drivers 13 minutes going between Waukegan and Schaumburg as of 2040. The estimated direct environmental impact on land, plants and animals in the path of the road is about 290 acres. It would generate about $55 million to $85 million in tolls a year.
• The bargain alternative costing up to $1 billion would directly affect 110 acres of land, reduce congestion in Lake County by 14 percent, and save someone 3 minutes traveling between Waukegan and Schaumburg in 2040. It would be a freeway.
• A blockbuster six-lane $2.3 billion option would rake in $80 million to $120 million in tolls a year, reduce county congestion by 24 percent, have a potential direct environmental impact on 405 acres and indirectly affect 51,000 acres.
One of the hurdles of extending Route 53 is that it could cut through the heart of Long Grove as well as hurt wetlands, rare plant and animal species and nature preserves in Lake County.
So how do you get builders, tree-huggers and politicians to find common ground? Shut them in a room with consultants and force them to do group exercises with maps and markers.
After a day of PowerPoint presentations, there seems to be some coalescing around two options ranging in cost from $1.4 billion to $1.9 billion. Both would be four-lane tolled parkways with speeds of 35 mph to 45 mph. The option exists for dividing the parkways into north and south sections in sensitive areas.
The committee meets again in March. In the meantime, here's a look at some divergent voices on the issue.
For Heather Rowe, Libertyville's economic development coordinator, shaving minutes off travel times for delivery trucks and workers could mean the world for retail and industrial companies that already do business in Lake County.
"Getting goods quicker to stores means less cost, more efficiencies all around and less air pollution," Rowe said.
"It's not just about adding new businesses, existing businesses have the potential to be more productive, efficient and have happier staff."
Long Grove Village President Maria Rodriguez said she hopes the final plan will address the serious issue of stormwater runoff.
"Once you continue adding impervious surfaces, there's a real concern there will be increased flooding. This is a serious concern, not just for Long Grove but for Lake County and some of Cook County," she said.
Steve Barg, executive director of the Liberty Prairie Conservancy, notes that much is at stake.
"There are more rare habitats harboring more rare species than any other county in the state," Barg said.
But he's encouraged by the conversation so far because it "flips the idea of how we think about a development. We're actually trying to understand how development of a road could lead to positive enhancements to the local environment -- whether it be water quality, habit or wildlife."
Lake County Chairman David Stolman said it's a tall order to come up with a road that improves traffic flow and is sensitive to both the environment and flooding issues, but he's optimistic.
Ultimately, the road should "make Lake County a better place," he said.
Got an opinion on the Route 53 extension? Drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Some great responses to last week's column on distracted driving.
Bethany Snyder-Morse of Elk Grove Village writes, "as a child passenger safety technician, I oppose any device in a car with a purpose other than safety. Vehicles are meant to transport, and distracted driving is killing people frequently these days. When we bought a van last year, I wanted 'no features.' No DVD player, etc. Of course, anything in the name of safety I wanted but ALL that came standard. I don't use any devices in the car."
Motorcyclist Dave Muzzey of St. Charles thinks "there are a lot of bad drivers out there that can't even drive without distractions. Let alone getting their mind on something other then driving.
"I'm a motorcyclist, so I'm always very alert to what's out there around me. I often wonder if people realize what that rod sticking out of the left side of their steering column is? After watching someone change lanes multiple times without signaling, I've wanting to come up next to them and either remove it, because they don't use it or ask them it they know what it does?
"Mainly the problem is people don't have consideration for their fellow drivers. It's all about 'THEM' and their own little world. But then again that's where society has headed, me, me, me. Remember the golden rule: 'Do unto other as you would like them to do to you.'"
Watch out for traffic pain at the Circle Interchange where I-90, I-94 and I-290 converge. IDOT crews will be improving three ramps, which means shoulder closures and some overnight lane closures starting April 1 as needed. Completion is early August.
• From 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday, you can give your train of thought on the Illinois State Rail Plan. The fun takes place at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, at the Willis Tower, 233 S. Wacker Drive, Suite 800. For info, check out, //dot.il.gov/ilrailplan/index.html">dot.il.gov/ilrailplan/index.html.
Have angst, will travelWorried about your bank account? Stressed over the stock market? Time to catch a plane. A Travelocity study finds that more Americans will travel this year, despite angst over the economy. That means 53 percent of consumers plan to travel more in 2012 compared to 35 percent for 2011.