Lake County shifts transportation plan away from Route 53 extension

  • Right of way for the proposed Route 53 extension into Lake County looking north of Route 176 near Mundelein.

      Right of way for the proposed Route 53 extension into Lake County looking north of Route 176 near Mundelein. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer, 2014

 
 

It isn't a stake in the heart, necessarily, but an action Tuesday by the Lake County Board shows it may be time to move on from considering a Route 53 extension as the answer to traffic issues.

Approved changes to the county's strategic plan, which is updated every two years, now call for a focus on a "modern, multimodal and comprehensive transportation plan" and to "monitor and utilize" rather than support environmental information gathered on a Route 53 extension.

"I think it takes the focus off 53," said county board Member Jessica Vealitzek, who introduced the changes.

"It just felt like there could be consensus on a comprehensive transportation system," she said. "I think everybody agreed, let's take the focus off this one thing."

The county's strategic plan guides future actions in different areas, such as improving infrastructure. But the change is not an official directive regarding Route 53 planning, which is in the hands of the Illinois Toll Highway Authority.

Opponents of the long-studied and -debated northern extension of Route 53 from Lake-Cook Road to Route 120 in central Lake County enthusiastically embraced the county's changes.

"This is really important for Lake County," said Grayslake resident Bill Morris, who as a former state senator, Waukegan mayor and tollway board member has had an inside perspective on a project that has been in the public consciousness since the early 1960s.

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While the idea may have made sense originally, that's no longer the case, Morris said. And, at an estimated cost of $2.7 billion and no dedicated funding, there are better options, Morris and others contend.

"Let's fix the existing roads," he said. "This is a real progressive opportunity for us."

Ten people representing various citizen and environmental concerns showed similar support for the changes. As stated, the new strategic goal is to reduce trip times, air pollution and carbon emissions, while protecting open space and positioning Lake County to be competitive in the 21st century.

Supporters included Vicky Ranney, whose husband, George, was co-chairman of a Route 53 blue ribbon committee of local, business and other leaders. The group in 2013 envisioned the extension as a global model and reached a consensus it should be a four-lane parkway with a 45 mph speed limit and a host of protections.

"That was totally disregarded," Ranney said. Studies have "gone of forever" she said, adding it was time to focus on existing roads.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Chris Geiselhart of Libertyville Township, a blue ribbon committee member, said she believes "there's been an appalling waste of money.

"We need a realistic, grounded series of alternatives," she said. "The movement away from Route 53 is clear."

Tuesday's action was approved by a voice vote of the board with no dissenters, but it does not officially alter the board's position on any particular project, noted board member Adam Didech. However, he emphasized that he opposes the Route 53 extension.

Last year, a plan that had focused on extending Route 53 north into Lake County with corresponding upgrades to Route 120 was rebooted and expanded as the Tri-County Access Project.

Whether the tollway will continue a $25 million environmental assessment associated with that project and its role in extending Route 53, is expected to be determined and announced soon, tollway officials have said.

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