Mayors unite against Route 53 environmental study
Resolve has stiffened from communities trying to stop further action on a Route 53 extension into Lake County.
Mayors of Hawthorn Woods and Long Grove said in a statement this week they have united in asking Gov. Bruce Rauner and members of the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority not to proceed with an environmental impact study estimated to cost $40 million to $50 million.
Extension supporters say the four-year study is needed to determine whether the project is feasible and if so, how and where it should be built. Proposals from firms are due Aug. 1, and the tollway this summer is likely to choose a firm to proceed.
Opponents, including the two villages, contend further work on Route 53 would be a waste of money. They were not deterred by the affirmation Tuesday by tollway Chairman Bob Schillerstrom that the study will proceed. Rauner's office on Friday declined to comment.
A consensus of opposition among stakeholders who originally endorsed the Route 53 extension is growing and support eroding based on "financial, environmental and taxation repercussions," according to the mayors' statement. Spending up to $50 million makes little sense given the growing lack of support among Lake County leaders and the state's ongoing budget crisis, they added. The Illinois Department of Transportation has advised contractors that ongoing road projects and engineering studies will shut down June 30 without a resolution.
Long Grove Village President Angie Underwood said three of the five communities in the direct path of the road have opposed the study. She cited a recent decision by the Mundelein village board against authorizing Mayor Steve Lentz to send a letter of support for the study.
"Given Mundelein's action, it just seems like the consensus that was so highly touted," is eroding, Underwood said Friday.
Hawthorn Woods Mayor Joe Mancino said an advisory group four years ago recommended proceeding with Route 53 planning, assuming special environmental standards would be in place and that design and finances would be subject to local input.
"Those assumptions have been invalidated, leading to a mass exodus of support for a project that will increase taxes, increase tolls, devastate downtown businesses and permanently destroy our environment," according to Mancino.
Simmering opposition reignited in mid-May with the surprise withdrawal of support by Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor because the "political and financial realities for the project have become insurmountable."
Proponents of the extension also are trying to gather steam. Hainesville Mayor Linda Soto, for example, has asked mayors to send letters of support for the study, and several county board members are said to have done so.
Lawlor's position didn't fare well Tuesday with the Vernon Hills village board, which long has supported Route 53 and was considering whether to authorize Mayor Roger Byrne to send a letter to that effect.
Lawlor, who lives there and represents the community, as well as Hawthorn Woods and Long Grove, addressed the board to explain his reasoning. That led to a sometimes prickly exchanges between the two.
"I resent the badgering, frankly," Lawlor told Byrne at one point.
The village board voted 5-0 to send the letter.