Lake County celebrates end of Washington Street Thoroughfare project

  • County officials Friday note the ceremonial end of the Washington Street Thoroughfare project.

    County officials Friday note the ceremonial end of the Washington Street Thoroughfare project. Courtesy of Lake County

  • Work wraps up on the final stage of the Washington Street project in Grayslake.

    Work wraps up on the final stage of the Washington Street project in Grayslake. Courtesy of Lake County

  • Lake County officials on Friday marked the official completion of the Washington Street Thoroughfare project.

    Lake County officials on Friday marked the official completion of the Washington Street Thoroughfare project. Mick Zawislak | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 9/29/2017 6:30 PM

The end of a big road project always is welcome but the completion of the Washington Street Thoroughfare was hailed Friday as having special significance.

A bevy of past and present Lake County officials, local leaders, contractors and others gathered along Washington Street just west of the completed railroad underpass in Grayslake to officially mark the end of a $53 million project that took two years to build.

 

Besides the underpass, a lane in each direction and center turn lane where needed was added on twin segments of Washington Street from Hainesville Road to Haryan Way and from that point east to Lake Street.

While providing relief for motorists and removing a barrier for emergency responders, the work also was noted for its big picture significance in a 25-year effort to widen and upgrade the entire Washington Street corridor -- an east-west spine through central Lake County -- from Round Lake to Waukegan.

"It was an inconvenience. This was a big project; this was a big construction site," said Lake County Board member Jeff Werfel, whose district includes the area. "The bottom line is this really does make a big difference in the quality of life."

Washington Street carries 16,000 vehicles a day in that area. Sixty trains each day, including Metra's North Central commuter service, use the Canadian National Railway tracks.

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Washington Street is a county highway for 11 miles from its west end at Cedar Lake Road to Green Bay Road (Route 131) skirting Six Flags Great America and crossing the Des Plaines River and I-94 tollway along the way. The county has synchronized the traffic signals along Washington to its eastern end at Sheridan Road in Waukegan.

"This improvement in traffic goes all the way to the lakefront," said Ann Maine, chair of the county board's public works and transportation committee.

"This is like the silver spike on the Transcontinental Railroad."

Altogether, the corridor upgrade has involved about 20 projects with a county investment of about $118 million.

"It's a generational effort," said Glenn Petko, the county's engineer of construction.

In recent years, Lake County has set a torrid pace for road work and has paid to untangle state routes where funding was lacking. The spark was a 1/4 percent regional sales tax the county has used solely for road construction.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"We will soon have invested $1 billion in our transportation system since the 1/4 percent sales tax went into effect in 2009," said county board Chairman Aaron Lawlor. Without it, "we would not be standing here," he added.

The Washington Thoroughfare is the fourth and final "challenge bond" project selected by county officials using the regional sales tax for major road work that would make a noticeable difference.

The others were widening Milwaukee Avenue (Route 21) and improving the intersection at Route 137 in Libertyville; an overpass of Fairfield Road at Route 176 near Mundelein; and, the Rollins Gateway, which lowered Rollins Road beneath the CN tracks and encompassed other significant work in Round Lake Beach.

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