Route 53 extension goes to tollway board
Build Route 53 north was the message from Lake County business, labor and political leaders to Illinois tollway directors Thursday.
The agency is considering a plan to extend the road north from the Cook County border to Route 120, designing it as a four-lane parkway with speeds of 45 mph.
The project has stalled for years because of environmental and property concerns, but an advisory group convened by the tollway came up with a consensus plan in May. The plan, advocates say, meets transportation needs but is sensitive to the environment because of its low speed and features like lanes lower than grade level.
"I wish there was a historian who could figure out why Route 53 stopped at Lake-Cook Road," said state Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat. "The people of Buffalo Grove have been shafted for years. There's no reason we can't get this done if we all work together."
"We were able to cut our way through a lot of hostility," co-chairman of the advisory group George Ranney said.
But financial problems loom for the project, which has estimated costs of $2.1 billion to $2.4 billion with an $800 million shortfall.
The tollway board did not vote on whether to undertake the project Thursday.
"Obviously, funding will be a very important thing for all board members to understand and feel comfortable with," Chair Paula Wolff said.
Proposed tolls of 20 cents a mile on the new portion would pay for some of the construction. Other revenue could come from a variety of sources -- some controversial. Ideas include: adding tolls on the Tri-State (I-94) at Route 132 and the Wisconsin border and increasing the Waukegan toll; charging Lake County residents gas or sales taxes, or implementing "congestion pricing," which means drivers pay more to use an express lane in rush hour.
The most explosive financing recommendation is tolling a freeway -- the existing part of Route 53 between Lake-Cook Road and I-90. The proposal has already been shot down by several Cook County mayors.
Board Director Jeff Redick asked if building a tollway with speeds of 45 mph and charging tolls on a freeway could be considered "counterintuitive." If it resulted in drivers leaving the tollway for nearby roads, that's "a real concern," he said.
Board Director and Aurora mayor Tom Weisner noted that, "the matter of financing is a prime concern. We need to address this fairly early because it clearly has implications for the entire project."
Rob Sherman of Buffalo Grove was among a few people objecting to the plan at a meeting where supporters predominated.
"The leaders of Lake County have volunteered the people of Cook County to pay for their public works project," Sherman said. "All the Lake County officials say, 'Great, let's build a trophy road,' but it's very expensive to build, prohibitively expensive to travel and very slow."
Advisory group Co-Chair and Lake County Chairman David Stolman said the plan would result in less noise, plus less water and air pollution for nearby forest preserves and wetlands.
However, state Rep. Sid Mathias, a Buffalo Grove Republican, told the board that "the tollway is the way to go. We don't have the money today from the state to do it."
The village of Long Grove has long fought against the extension, but Mayor Maria Rodriguez told directors it "would enhance the character of Lake County and Long Grove."
Steve Barg, executive director of Conserve Lake County, said the nonprofit group had opposed the project for years but the consensus plan "protects critical natural resources."
The new road would be about 12 miles on the Route 53 portion and 14 miles on the Route 120 segment.