Towns along Route 120 teaming up to address congestion
Communities along Route 120 in central Lake County say the congestion faced by as many as 26,900 drivers every day must be addressed, regardless of whether a proposed Route 53 extension is built.
The state highway is the east-west spine of central Lake County, carrying drivers from Lakemoor to Waukegan. But it is two lanes for much of that length, and long backups occur in various locations during rush hours.
Congestion at off-peak times is a growing problem, and community leaders contend traffic will worsen because of expected development on the corridor's west end.
Although improvements have been tied to the proposed extension of Route 53 north from Lake-Cook Road to Route 120, the plan calls for a bypass of Grayslake, leaving much of the existing highway as is. And given that the idea of an extension has been around since the 1960s, any significant relief for the existing Route 120 corridor is thought to be well down the road, if at all.
With that in mind, officials from Lakemoor, Volo, Round Lake, Round Lake Park, Hainesville and Grayslake began meeting more than a year ago to discuss the challenges and identify priorities for improvements not hitched to the Route 53 plan.
"The (Route 120) corridor itself always gets tied up in the Route 53 project," Grayslake Village Manager Mike Ellis said. "The towns are doing their homework."
Hainesville Mayor Linda Soto said the proposed Route 53 extension and Route 120 improvements need to be addressed.
"It's not one or the other," she said.
"These improvements that we'll be recommending are needed no matter what happens," added Steve Shields, Round Lake's village administrator.
Grayslake contributed about $10,000 for consultant costs. A list of 14 improvement projects, mainly adding turn lanes at intersections, were identified at an estimated cost of $45.5 million.
"Each of those individual projects make sense, are not overreaching and have been needed for 20 years," said state Sen. Melinda Bush, a Grayslake resident whose district includes the corridor.
"There are just improvements all along Route 120 that need to happen. (Route) 53 has held us up for a long time," she said.
The single largest identified project is $16 million to rebuild and add lanes at routes 120 and 83 in Grayslake, where backups are legendary because of a railroad crossing. Building an underpass would cost an additional $15 million.
Because Route 120 is regarded as a single transportation system, any improvement benefits the entire corridor, Soto said.
The suggestions are not intended as a substitute for an eventual bypass, participants say.
"The traffic on the existing (Route) 120 is not really going to get lighter if we do a bypass," said Soto, a Route 53 supporter. "It will just stop getting worse."
The town leaders hope to present a unified front to whatever agencies or entities can provide funding.
Bush said she plans this summer to convene the communities, county and state transportation officials, environmental concerns, road builders and others to get the ball rolling. Funding is a question, but Bush said specific projects need to be identified and developed to the point they are ready to build if and when money becomes available.