Tollway budgets $10 million for Route 53 extension study
Illinois tollway leaders are committed to studying an extension of Route 53, and the 2017 budget reflects that with $10 million slotted for the project.
Board members approved a $1.38 billion budget Thursday. It includes more funding to train minority businesses and workers and for the continued construction of the Route 390/Elgin-O'Hare Expressway eastward.
Former tollway director and state Sen. Bill Morris asked the board to drop the environmental impact study of building Route 53 into Lake County.
"Why study the environmental impact when you have no way to pay to build the road?" said Morris, who lives in Grayslake. "That is, unless there is a secret plan to raise tolls systemwide you have not disclosed to us."
Lake County is divided on the project, with supporters saying the road will create jobs and reduce congestion and opponents contending it will be a costly, pollution-causing boondoggle.
"The board voted to move forward with the EIS," Chairman Robert Schillerstrom said.
Proposals from consultants to conduct the study, estimated to cost up to $50 million, are being evaluated, and a decision is expected in the near future.
One cloud over the nearly $1 billion allocated for road construction in 2017 is a feud with the Canadian Pacific Railroad over CP land near Bensenville. The tollway needs the land for a new road on the western edge of O'Hare airport.
"It's proved to be impossible to even come to an agreement with (CP) because they won't even bother to meet with us," Schillerstrom said.
CP contends the road would disrupt rail operations. The dispute now rests with federal regulators, but delays would be costly to the tollway.
Revenues from tolls will shoot up by about $80 million, the financial staff expects, partly because of a rate increase for trucks in 2017 and new funds coming in from tolling Route 390, which started in mid-2016.
The $336 million operating and maintenance budget, which includes salaries, equipment and supplies, will increase by about $14 million, or 4.4. percent, in 2017. Part of the spike comes from higher costs for toll collection equipment and technology and for the customer call center, which is operated by a contractor.
The tollway is also expanding its diversity department. Plans for 2017 include hiring consultants to develop a training center to instruct minority laborers in construction skills and continuing regional programs to teach minority small businesses how to apply and win tollway contracts. The regional centers are based in Aurora, Lake County, Rockford and the South suburbs. The agency added $1.2 million to its diversity budget in 2017.
The tollway is adding 12 jobs and eliminating 54 positions through attrition and other means. The agency will not lay off workers, officials said.