Let's move on from Rt. 53 extension
These are comments I included in a recent letter to the Illinois Tollway.
I was not surprised last month to learn our county board chairman had withdrawn his support for IL Route 53. I heartily support Chairman Aaron Lawlor's decision. The Lake County Board is very much divided on whether to support what is perceived by many as the waste of time and money that the 53 project represents. The proposed Route 53 extension into Lake County has been a key strategy for improving regional transportation in the Lake County Strategic Plan for many years. There is a reason it has not come to fruition. It is a political and fiscal impossibility.
The questions and concerns Chairman Lawlor presents are legitimate. They provide ample reason to abandon the waste of money and resources that would be necessary to complete the EIS. It is imperative that the EIS conform with the Blue Ribbon Advisory Council's consensus plan and recommendations that call for an innovative parkway. The tollway board has always maintained that the project would not go forward without consensus. It is obvious, with the complete withdrawal of support from all environmental groups, as well as many municipal leaders, that consensus on this issue is unattainable.
The need for congestion mitigation is impacting residents across our region every day. Although some studies show our county's population is going to increase by more than 30 percent in the next 25 years, the population only grew marginally in the last 10. Other opinions show the county population growth flattening out in the future. A significant amount of growth over the past 20 years has occurred in Lake County, and our road infrastructure simply hasn't kept pace. One of the reasons for this is the continual, seemingly perpetual infatuation that some have with an impossible project. The continuing uncertainty as to the future transportation infrastructure needs has stifled necessary improvement planning.
As a border county to Wisconsin, businesses have a choice and our Lake County companies have limited options. It's time to take this project off the table and consider other realistic, viable, affordable alternatives. Additionally, the lack of a diversified tax base and reliance largely on residential property taxes to support local taxing bodies, including schools, make it hard for our residents to shoulder the property tax burden. If this project were to proceed, it would require the equivalence of 36 new schools, while undercutting the tax base for those schools by virtue of the "value added tax", thus increasing the tax burden on our residents.
As a 14-year veteran on the county board, I know how challenging this project is. The reason it hasn't been built in the 50-plus years that it has been contemplated is because it is a fiscal, politic and environmental impossibility. The bold action we need to take is to MOVE ON. Let's get together and plan a reasonable alternative to this project that truly addresses fiscal, infrastructure, and environmental concerns for all our residents.
I urge Governor Rauner and the Illinois Tollway to discontinue the EIS process so that all residents and local officials have input with all alternatives debated in a public process.
Steve Carlson, of Grandwood Park, is a member of the Lake County Board.