43 Lake County mayors asked to support Route 53 study
Lake County mayors are being asked to express their support for a $40 million to $50 million environmental impact study for the proposed Route 53 extension.
Hainesville Mayor Linda Soto has asked mayors of 43 towns to send a letter backing the study to Illinois State Toll Highway Authority Chairman Robert Schillerstrom and the board of directors.
The pitch was sent to communities on the record as supporting the Route 53 extension. Soto said she wants to avoid delay in arriving at a final determination on the project.
"Please let's not find ourselves five to six years out trying to get this very same study going again," she wrote to mayors in the appeal.
In correspondence to mayors, she said the campaign is in response to "shocking recent events" -- a reference to Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor's withdrawal of support for the $2.3 billion to $2.65 billion project. Soto said the resulting "upheaval and drama" caused a glitch in consideration of the study required by federal law for the project to proceed.
Supporters argue the study will answer many questions, such as the road type, alignment and other details of a proposed extension and related improvements along Route 120 from Volo to Waukegan.
"I don't want them to blink. I don't want them to pause," Soto said of tollway officials.
Whether a road should be built at all is another possibility the environmental study, or EIS, would determine. It would take about four years to complete and include a robust public information and engagement program, Soto said.
The form letter reaffirms study support and says, in part, answers are needed on how to reduce traffic congestion and travel time. That's vital to the future and the quality of life in central and western Lake County, the letter states.
"We need to do the EIS and we need to do it now. This is the tool that will give us the answers," Soto said.
As of early Wednesday, Soto said she had received a dozen confirmations of support and one decline from Waukegan, with many municipalities set to poll their boards before responding.
Opponents under the umbrella of Grayslake-based Livable Lake County said they are monitoring agendas and plan to write a letter to appear in the newspaper. The group plans a community forum next month in Mundelein.
"This is too big a deal for mayors to sign off on without a public meeting," said Barbara Klipp, a group leader.
That was the case Monday when the Mundelein village board considered authorizing Mayor Steve Lentz to send the letter.
"I think it would be sending a signal that we support the concept of building 53 and that we want them to take the next step," Lentz said during the discussion. Trustees by a 4-1 vote nixed the idea.
However, Village Administrator John Lobaito on Wednesday said Mundelein has not withdrawn support for a Route 53 extension.
Lawlor had been a strong supporter of the road to relieve traffic congestion and spark development. He co-chaired a blue ribbon committee of diverse interests that in 2012 recommended an environmentally sensitive, four-lane, boulevard-style toll road as the solution.
In a stunning reversal last month, he said the "financial and political realities have become insurmountable," and efforts should be redirected to establish a greenway system and improve existing roads.
The design faced a $1.9 billion shortfall despite steep tolls, a special taxing district in the corridor and other measures that would require state or local approvals.
According to information provided to Mundelein officials, a liaison for Gov. Bruce Rauner had contacted village staff members "wanting to understand" the village's position on Route 53 and the study.
Klipp said 1,000 people in Mundelein are among those who have signed a petition asking Rauner to stop the extension.