Environmental study of Route 53 extension approved
Illinois tollway leaders agreed to move forward with a study of a Route 53 extension north amid a boardroom full of Lake County residents speaking against and for the plan Thursday.
The controversial project would expand Route 53 north to Route 120 and has divided many in Lake County. An environmental impact study could cost up to $50 million and the tollway has budgeted $5.8 million toward that in 2016.
Supporters think the extension would reduce congestion, air pollution and commuting time in Lake County plus bring jobs and development to the region.
Opponents say the road would destroy valuable prairie and wetlands and endanger plants and wildlife. Others predict the 45 mph parkway design with tolls of about 20 cents a mile is impractical and won't be worth the money.
Board Director Joseph Gomez of Northfield recalled how his family lost their Chicago home and business when the Dan Ryan Expressway was built.
"There are directors who are acutely sensitive to what you're going through," he said to opponents.
Hawthorn Woods Trustee Peter Ponzio warned Gov. Bruce Rauner, who appoints the tollway board, to "don't spend money we don't have."
Lake County resident Susan Zingle said "this is supported by people who will make money -- the developers, the contractors. The opponents are those that have to live with it and pay for it."
But Lake County Chairman Aaron Lawlor said he objected to "misleading" comments about the project.
"We are not going to build a road at 'any' cost," he said.
Buffalo Grove Trustee Jeffrey Berman disagreed there was no consensus in support of the extension.
"Seventy-six percent of voters approved it -- that's consensus," he said, referring to an advisory referendum several years ago.
The road would include features aimed at not harming wetlands and prairie along the route, but a number of environmental groups are skeptical.
The tollway would also improve Route 120 west to Route 12 and east to I-294 if it undertakes the project.
The study will take three to five years to complete.
Director Nick Sauer of Lake Barrington promised an ethical, transparent process. "We're going to do this the Lake County way," he said.
Despite complaints previous environmental impact studies had already been done, Director and Elk Grove Mayor Craig Johnson said that "times change, technology changes, needs change and ideas change."
The biggest hurdle is how to close a funding gap estimated at $2 billion. Funding ideas for Lake County include a gas tax, increasing tolls, and a special taxing district known as a tax increment financing district, a mechanism that isn't popular with some residents. That's because the property tax revenues that go to local governments are frozen at a certain level, which is set on a base assessed property value, and any taxes generated above that level go back into redevelopment.