Funding gap still dogs Route 53 extension

  • If Route 53 is extended north, possible routes include going through this Mundelein subdivision, near Hawley Street.

      If Route 53 is extended north, possible routes include going through this Mundelein subdivision, near Hawley Street. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer, October 2014

 
 
Updated 11/18/2014 7:21 PM

Proponents of extending Route 53 into Lake County received an upbeat response from Illinois tollway directors Tuesday compared to a previous visit, but positive vibes only go so far with a funding gap of up to $1.9 billion.

The future of a $2.65 billion plan to build Route 53 north to Route 120 still swings in the wind, especially given that proposed additional tolls on the North Tri-State (I-94) are a crucial building block of the funding.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Members of a project advisory group floated ideas to raise between $600 million and $1 billion, a step up from a May meeting where they were criticized for the road's cost and failing to identify how Lake County could contribute.

"I remember being vociferous at your last visit ... I'm very pleased to see you've made a lot of progress," tollway Director and Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner said.

The advisory group has estimated that $380 million to $510 million could come from Tri-State-based options including reinstating the Deerfield Toll Plaza and adding tolls to a variety of on- and offramps in Lake County, such as Route 120.

Buffalo Grove resident Rob Sherman argued against using Tri-State tolls for a new project. "If you do that you're going to set a precedent ... I can't imagine the General Assembly changing the tollway act, which says that the purpose of tolls is to pay off the bonds (for toll roads) and operate the system," he said.

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Planners expect $250 million to $330 million would be raised from 20-cents-a-mile tolls on the new Route 53 extension plus congestion pricing, where drivers might pay a premium during rush hour for an express lane.

A 4-cent per gallon Lake County gas tax and other local contributions such as special taxing districts could provide $110 million to $170 million. However, that would require an amendment to state law and a buy-in from the General Assembly.

But one question that's unanswered is whether systemwide dollars should pay for the shortfall, anticipated to be between $1.4 billion and $1.9 billion. Lake County Chairman Aaron Lawlor cited the example of the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway extension, which was made possible with a toll increase in 2012 for the agency's Move Illinois building program.

"I think we want to maximize the local share to make the project as attractive as possible to get it done. But at the end of the day it is a system. We want to be cognizant that, just like Elgin-O'Hare required (tollway) system revenue, we're hopeful that this project receives system revenue," Lawlor said.

"I think great progress has been made but the process continues," tollway Executive Kristi Lafleur said, adding that whether to use systemwide revenue for the shortfall would be a board decision.

If the Deerfield plaza was brought back, the Edens Spur Plaza could be eliminated and the Waukegan Toll Plaza rate would be reduced, planners have suggested. The latter change could lure back trucks that divert to Route 41 to avoid the Waukegan plaza.

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