With Route 53 extension scrapped, will $13 million in studies go to waste?
The Illinois tollway washed its hands of extending Route 53 to Lake County last week, but does that mean $13 million spent on consultants will go down the drain?
Executive Director Jose Alvarez cut short an environmental impact study into expanding Route 53 a week ago, citing a lack of consensus in Lake County and the need to focus on more immediate construction projects.
Although the study is scrapped, the findings to date will be shared with the Illinois Department of Transportation and Lake County, the tollway said Thursday.
The study instigated by the previous tollway board and administration had cost the agency about $13 million since July 2017 mainly for engineering-related services but also for communications.
Information and data on county roads and traffic along with conceptual designs for improvements gathered by engineers CH2M Hill, Inc./ Knight E/A Inc. will be provided to IDOT, Lake County and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, officials said. Research and findings on environmental conditions and transit options will also be passed on.
"The data is very valuable," Alvarez said.
Proponents of extending Route 53 had hoped it would fix traffic problems and create jobs. But a cost estimated to top $2.7 billion, a lack of funding and environmental concerns eroded support for the project.
The Lake County Board downgraded the Route 53 project on its list of priorities in early July.
As part of the contract, the tollway also paid out at least $381,000 from 2017 through March for communications consultants who conducted outreach and meetings on the project, although some local officials criticized those efforts.
"I can't speak to what happened before," Alvarez said.
The previous tollway board was ousted early in 2019 after concerns about patronage were raised by the Daily Herald. A new board took office in March, and Alvarez was hired in April.
"I took time to talk to the stakeholders (about Route 53) and meet with most of the village presidents and mayors. As a result of the feedback and based on where we are as an organization, I made the decision to stop (the study) with the board's support," Alvarez said.
The move was lauded at Thursday's tollway board meeting by Hawthorn Woods and Long Grove officials.
"We are grateful for your insight and for your analysis of the millions of dollars wasted on a single roadway that is not fundable or feasible," Hawthorn Woods Chief Financial Officer Kristin Kazenas said, reading a statement from Mayor Joseph Mancino.