With construction ongoing in every direction, drivers near Rollins Road and Route 83 in Round Lake Beach may be wondering what's in store.
The easiest answer is that the most expensive and complicated road project undertaken by Lake County is about to get stickier. Starting Monday, sections of heavily traveled Rollins will be closed for two weeks and traffic detoured.
During that time, a temporary bridge on Route 83 over Rollins will be built and a spur railroad track installed to divert an estimated 55 freight and commuter trains each day around the existing ground-level Rollins crossing.
A new railroad crossing and signals on a temporary Rollins Road to the south of the existing one also will be built as a prelude to the real meat of the project, which is in the midst of a dense commercial area with shopping centers on three corners.
The closure comes just after Friday's opening of new shopping center entrances as well as the rerouted northern segment of Hainesville ending at ending at Rollins -- the first permanent improvements completed as part of the sprawling project.
Confused? Don't feel bad.
"We're getting into some very intricate steps in the process that have to be closely coordinated," said Al Giertych, assistant county engineer.
"There is a lot of interest in the project," added Glenn Petko, engineer of construction for the county. "It's so complex; it's hard to put into words how all this comes together, what goes on where and when."
Over the next two weeks, construction crews working for the county and Canadian National railroad will be entrenched in the effort, which is regarded as a pivotal milestone to untangle a sometimes maddening bottleneck traversed by 24,000 vehicles daily.
"Seven days a week, and it's pretty close to around the clock," Petko said.
Because of its size and complexity of what is known as the Rollins Road Gateway project, a special website with high definition, zoomable cameras and time-lapse images of activity has been created.
"I'm really curious to see how they do this," said Rob Ironside, assistant manager at the Pep Boys auto parts store in the portion of the Rollins Plaza shopping center closest to Route 83. Business has been steady throughout construction, he said, as the store has been accessible from all directions. However, that could change.
"I think the worst of the storm is about to hit us," he said.
Village officials have estimated a 15 percent to 20 percent drop in sales taxes for the duration. Last week, the village board authorized the use of temporary business signs during construction.
"It's probably the most difficult time of the project," Mayor Rich Hill said.
Rollins will be closed in two stages. From Monday through Nov. 18, Rollins between Route 83 and shopping center entrances to the east will be closed. The detour will be Hainesville Road to Washington Street to Route 45. Route 83 and its shopping center entrances will remain open for the duration.
To the west, Rollins between Hainesville Road and Route 83 will be closed for both weeks until Nov. 25. The detour for the second week will be Hainesville Road to Washington Street to Route 83.
"It's a very tight schedule for what has to be done," Giertych said. "The first week is the worst; the second week the detour shortens considerably," he added.
The railroad will install 3,200 feet of track just west of the current line, which carries about 25 Metra commuter trains and 30 freight trains on a typical weekday. Metra's North Central Service doesn't run on weekends. But an eight-hour train-free window will be needed on Nov. 24 to tie the temporary spur into the main line, according to Mark Molnar, resident engineer for Alfred Benesch & Co., the Chicago firm overseeing the project for the county.
Traffic backups ensue because the tracks are immediately west of Route 83, and the signals take a few cycles to get back in sync after a train passes. Taking the railroad out of the equation by putting Rollins beneath it and moving Hainesville Road about 300 feet west is expected to solve the problem.
Giertych emphasized that lanes on Rollins won't be reduced during the project.
"That was found to be unacceptable," he said. Rather than close Rollins for two or three months the decision was made to use temporary pavement, including a 2,500-foot-long stretch of Rollins that will have to stand up to winter.
With the temporary Route 83 bridge in place, the railroad rerouted to the west, and a rail crossing installed on the temporary Rollins Road -- which will carry traffic for the duration -- the way will be clear for the marquee portion of the project.
That will entail building a railroad bridge to replace the street crossing and creating an underpass by rebuilding, widening and lowering the Rollins/83 intersection by about 20 feet.
"Until we do these two weeks, we can't do much of anything else," Molnar said.
Excavation for the underpass isn't expected to be complete until next spring and the Route 83 bridge is expected to remain in place until July, Molnar said. Including construction, land acquisition, utility relocation and other costs, the two-year project is estimated to cost $61 million. The project is expected to be substantially done by the end of 2014.