Editorial: Wrong way to get Route 53 consensus

 
Posted7/12/2018 1:00 AM
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  • A green field occupies the Route 53 right of way in Hawthorn Woods.

      A green field occupies the Route 53 right of way in Hawthorn Woods. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • A possible Route 53 extension path cuts through a Mundelein subdivision just south of Hawley Street.

      A possible Route 53 extension path cuts through a Mundelein subdivision just south of Hawley Street. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

Tollway leaders want to extend Route 53 through the center of Lake County, as do some mayors and county officials and construction industry representatives who say it's the answer to congestion.

Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor, mayors of several towns that would be bisected by the new span and some environmental groups say the highway would cost too much and degrade air and water.

That lack of consensus has kept the project from moving forward since the Illinois Department of Transportation started buying land for the highway about 50 years ago.

Unanimity will never be found, but state officials have in the past indicated they wanted broad local backing before going ahead.

"If I can't go to the governor and say there's significant support for this, we're not going to do it," Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn, an ex officio tollway director, said in 2016 after Lawlor pulled his support.

The tollway, which took over the project from cash-strapped IDOT years ago, recently has taken a different approach. Some opponents, such as Hawthorn Woods Mayor Joseph Mancino, call it "coercive." Tollway Executive Director Liz Gorman says that's not the intent.

But the tollway's approach does seems designed to dilute and mute Route 53 naysayers, which we think is the wrong way to go on such a significant proposal.

The tollway rebranded the project as the Tri-County Access Project, drawing in Cook and McHenry counties as well as Lake and raising the number of "stakeholders" to 145. Now, Mancino says, the tollway is asking those participants to sign a document to "agree to act as a team" and "reach a collective understanding."

It's hard to disagree with his reading that a stacked deck of proponents will prevail and dissenters won't be heard.

It's notable that the tollway board, appointed by Gov. Bruce Rauner, has no members from Lake County.

Gorman said asking for the signed agreement "was intended to encourage an open and healthy discussion among community members."

If that's genuinely tollway leaders' intent, they should do more to bring local representatives and opponents on board and address their concerns in an attempt to reach consensus.

The request for a signed commitment should be eliminated. Even if the tollway's intention is being misread, it's an inappropriate requirement as a condition for civic participation.

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