Candidates for 7th District seat divided on Route 53 plan
The candidates running for the Lake County Board's 7th District seat have opposing opinions on the controversial plan to extend Route 53 into Lake County.
Republican incumbent Steve Carlson believes officials should abandon the long-gestating Route 53 plans, saying the project is too costly and a "political impossibility."
Democratic challenger Mary Turley said she doesn't know much about the issue but believes a Route 53 extension would relieve traffic congestion and improve access to businesses in the county.
"I think it would help Lake County," Turley said.
The 7th District includes the Gurnee area. The county board also doubles as the Lake County Forest Preserve District board.
Carlson and Turley are running for a 4-year term. They spoke about Route 53 and other issues in a joint interview with the Daily Herald.
A Route 53 extension has been debated for decades. The highway, which runs north and south through the Northwest suburbs, now ends at Lake-Cook Road.
An advisory panel of Lake County officials, environmentalists and business owners in 2014 reached a consensus on building a four-lane parkway north to Route 120.
But a roughly $2 billion shortfall, environmental concerns and other issues has led to renewed friction. This spring, Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor pulled his support of that plan.
Carlson has been publicly critical of it, too. The funding gap alone makes the project "ridiculous," he said.
"It's a house of cards," said Carlson, a county board member since 2002. "It's going to fall down."
Carlson suggested officials set a realistic budget for Lake County transit improvements and develop a plan based on that figure. It should include mass transit and bike paths, not just roadways, he said.
They should also figure out how to use a gasoline tax, sales tax or other revenue to fund it, he said.
Once a plan is developed, Lake County voters should decide if it moves forward or dies, Carlson said.
"It's fair," he said. "It's honest."
Turley, who is making her first bid for public office, admitted she hadn't researched the Route 53 issue before throwing her hat into the political ring. When asked if she supported the current plan or any alternatives, she said she didn't know.
Turley acknowledged the project's financial shortfall probably would fall on taxpayers' shoulders. Even so, she believes a highway extension would be good for the county's economy.
Companies looking to establish suburban operations might avoid Lake County if a highway isn't built, Turley said.
"I can't see a company putting anything there with the way gridlock is," she said.
That would be bad for Lake County residents looking for work, she said.
"We need more jobs," Turley said.