Daily Herald opinion: A toll-free Longmeadow Bridge would also be good for Cook, McHenry counties
Funding issues have dogged the Longmeadow Parkway traffic project in northeast Kane County virtually since its inception with a $4 million federal grant in 2005. As the $135 million roadway lumbers toward a late 2024 completion, one lingering, important question remains -- how to pay off $35 million in bonds Kane County used to help with the construction and support ongoing maintenance.
The ultimate fallback has long been assumed to be to make the Longmeadow Parkway Bridge, the final leg of the project, a toll bridge, the only such local toll bridge in the state. Almost no one likes that option, though, and Kane County officials have said it might be averted altogether if McHenry and Cook counties, portions of which are served by the 5.6-mile roadway, will pitch in $1 million each in recognition of the fact that their constituents will benefit substantially from the traffic-relief valve running from Huntley and Boyer roads eastward to Route 62 in Algonquin.
McHenry County Board Chair Mike Buehler acknowledged the benefits in an interview with Shaw Local Media last week. While coming well short of agreeing to Kane County's request, Buehler did note that some estimates have found motorists from McHenry County would pay $1 million a year if the bridge ends up charging a toll.
"If we're looking at a scenario where a toll would be eliminated, I think that would be a pretty compelling argument," Buehler said.
The argument may not be quite as persuasive in Cook County, where just a small sliver near Barrington Hills would be most affected, but then again $1 million out of Cook's multibillion-dollar budget is substantially less noticeable than it would be compared to the much smaller revenue picture in McHenry.
And, in both counties as well as Kane, the new road is expected to result in hundreds of millions of dollars in new business activity. This, of course, in addition to the parkway's primary purpose of alleviating long years of bad traffic headaches in the region.
It seems hard to imagine that Cook and McHenry County's comparatively paltry $2 million will upend the entire $135 million Longmeadow effort or even just the $35 million bond portion. But in a project built with such a complex mix of local, federal and state resources -- the Illinois General Assembly alone, for instance, approved $17.5 million for the current budget year and has another $12.5 million on the drawing board for next year -- every dollar counts.
So, Kane County's request is not the least unreasonable. Nor is meeting it is just a neighborly thing for McHenry and Cook counties to do. It's also self-serving.
And if it does help assure that motorists use the bridge and avoid paying even a small toll for the privilege, there will be relief and gratitude all round.