Lake County considers 8-cent-per-gallon gas tax to pay for transportation projects

  • The Route 45 bypass of Grass Lake Road at what had been known as the "Milburn Strangler" near Lindenhurst was on the drawing board for decades before opening in 2019. Now Lake County officials are considering a gas tax to fund long-stalled road projects.

    The Route 45 bypass of Grass Lake Road at what had been known as the "Milburn Strangler" near Lindenhurst was on the drawing board for decades before opening in 2019. Now Lake County officials are considering a gas tax to fund long-stalled road projects. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer, 2019

  • Washington Street thoroughfare project in Grayslake is an example of a road project that can change people's lives, Lake County officials say. The county board is expected to vote next month to create a gas tax to fund road and transportation projects.

    Washington Street thoroughfare project in Grayslake is an example of a road project that can change people's lives, Lake County officials say. The county board is expected to vote next month to create a gas tax to fund road and transportation projects. Courtesy of Lake County

 
 
Updated 2/25/2021 1:27 PM
This story has been updated to note that Lake County until 2019 was not authorized to impose a motor fuel tax but tried twice unsuccessfully by referendum to impose a sales tax for transportation.

Lake County officials appear ready to authorize a fuel tax to help fund a huge to-do list of road and transportation projects.

Members of two key committees in a joint meeting Wednesday directed an ordinance outlining the measure be prepared for a vote at the March 9 meeting of the full county board.

 

The tax can range from 4 cents to 8 cents per gallon under state law. At this point, an informal majority of committee members support the maximum 8 cents.

"This is warranted. We need this money. There are no two ways about it," said county board member Craig Taylor of Lake Zurich.

Taylor said there may be initial pushback, but he predicted that, as with the recently completed Quentin Road project in his district, the public will be happy with the end results.

Proceeds estimated at as much as $22 million a year would help move needed projects off the long-range drawing board into the design and construction process, said Shane Schneider, director of the Lake County Division of Transportation.

"It's very important we get projects on this assembly line and designed, because we know it will take time to deliver them," he said.

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Schneider said there are $1.7 billion in projects identified in Lake County's 2040 Transportation plan, but only about $30 million a year is available to chip away at the list.

Many of the most needed, expensive and time-consuming projects are being designed but aren't funded for construction, Schneider said. He noted five examples, such as rebuilding and widening the northern section of Buffalo Grove Road, that would require another $145 million.

State law enacted in 1989 allowed for a gas tax in collar counties but Lake and Will counties were excluded. DuPage County has collected about $500 million from its gas tax, according to Schneider.

Lake County had failed attempts by referendum in 2004 and 2005 to impose first a ¼% and then a ½% special county sales tax to fund public safety or transportation needs.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In 2008, state lawmakers authorized a Regional Transportation Authority sales tax to be collected in the collar counties. Lake County has dedicated its share solely to transportation projects.

As of last November, Lake County has received about $362 million from the RTA sales tax. It has been used to build some of the most significant road projects in Lake County history, such as the Rollins Road Gateway, Millburn Bypass and Washington Street Thoroughfare.

"This literally changes people's lives," Jennifer Clark, a county board member from Libertyville, said of the project to take Washington Street beneath a troublesome railroad crossing in Grayslake.

In 2019, the Illinois General Assembly revised the law to allow Lake and Will counties to impose a local fuel tax.

The gas tax can be enacted anytime, but the Illinois Department of Revenue will enforce it starting only on July 1 or Oct. 1 of a given year. To catch the first window, a county board vote needs to be taken in March so the paperwork can be prepared and submitted by April 1.

That is a drawback for some board members.

"I'm not opposed to this tax," said Ann Maine, a board member from Lincolnshire. "I'm opposed to the timing."

But a majority appear ready to proceed.

"It's a tough vote for a lot of people, but it's the responsible vote," said board member Jessica Vealitzek or Mundelein.

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