Amid protests, tollway leaders say Route 53 study will move ahead
Illinois tollway leaders affirmed they will go ahead with a feasibility study of extending Route 53 Tuesday after some project foes vowed to continue protesting at meetings until a decision was made.
Whether to extend Route 53 north has divided Lake County residents for years on questions of pollution, road design, cost and whether it will fix traffic congestion.
Tollway board directors voted to carry out a $40 million to $50 million environmental impact study in December but dissension remained and gained momentum when former Route 53 booster Lake Chairman Aaron Lawlor defected May 16.
"It's $40 or $50 million and the public can ill afford it," said Bill Morris of Grayslake, a former tollway director and former state senator. "The plan should just be abandoned. As long as it stays on the table we are not going to solve the congestion problems for our whole county. This only helps one little part and there are serious questions if it will create more congestion."
Tollway Director and Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson said he wanted the public to be clear the tollway is doing the study.
"It's great people come (to speak) but they may be under the impression we haven't made a decision. We made a decision."
"We have made the decision to proceed," tollway Chairman Bob Schillerstrom said, adding the board will likely choose a study consultant this summer. Proposals from firms are due Aug. 1.
A tollway advisory panel of Lake County officials, environmentalists and businesses reached a consensus on building a four-lane, 45 mph parkway north to Route 120 in 2014.
But a $2 billion shortfall, 20-cent a mile tolls and the expectation Lake County would subsidize the budget gap with a gas tax and other contributions caused friction.
The extension will ease chronic traffic jams in Lake County and spur economic development, supporters say.
The tollway has not decided on whether to build the road.
"It's clear Lake County doesn't want this," said Kathy Englund of Hawthorn Woods, one of about 20 opponents at the meeting. "Support is falling away piece by piece. The tollway has always maintained it would not build roads in communities where it isn't wanted."
"I implore you to take a second look at this and have the courage to stop it," Sierra Club attorney Stacy Meyers said.
Later in the meeting, Director Earl Dotson of Rockford suggested the tollway obtain a digital clock to show people addressing the board during public comment when their three minutes of allotted time is up. He also recommended speakers be reminded it is "inappropriate" to address tollway employees and directors by their names.
Schillerstrom said he does time speakers but is sometimes "a little liberal" in granting an extra minute or so. "It's important everyone have an opportunity to speak," he said.
Regarding Dotson's second point, Schillerstrom noted that directors and tollway employees "are all public servants ... and all in the public eye."