The bridge's last gap: Can new Longmeadow Parkway open (with tolls) in 2023?
Standing at the dead end of a private road just west of the new Longmeadow Parkway bridge over Route 31 is the convergence of all the love and hate for the decadeslong effort to create a new Fox River crossing in northern Kane County.
The private road ends with a panoramic view of some of the key improvements the 5.6-mile Longmeadow project brings. There will be less rush-hour traffic congestion, new business development, and access to the Cook, Kane and McHenry counties' borders, all within minutes once construction ends.
But while overlooking that progress from the private road with a group of people wearing neon green Kane County Division of Transportation construction vests, there is the distinct feeling of being watched by some of the neighbors who long opposed the project.
"You have to kind of keep an eye out," said county board member Drew Frasz. "Some of these people are not our biggest fans."
That's nothing new for Frasz. As chairman of the county board's transportation committee, he's spent the entire construction process defending the project and answering criticism, including from some of his fellow board members. To him, when the project is finished, it will be the culmination of the plans and desires of all the communities affected by it.
Driving the parkway, Frasz points to land set aside by community leaders in Algonquin and Carpentersville who envisioned a Longmeadow that fuels a new heyday for their communities.
"This project couldn't have happened without their foresight and contributions," Frasz said. "And it will be good to finally get this project over the goal line."
But that goal line remains elusive.
This year was supposed to be the year to spike the football of completion. The COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain disruptions and a lingering issue with lead-contaminated soil will push the opening of the full parkway into 2023. Maybe.
The missing piece is just beyond the eastern edge of the Brunner Family Forest Preserve, on a piece of land that was part of a quarry. There's lead in the soil that must be addressed before the roadway and toll collection devices can be put in place.
But some initial ideas for removing the lead didn't work out. Now, county officials must seek new proposals to either dig the contamination out or find a way to treat it on-site.
Meanwhile, the price of steel, fuel and road construction materials is skyrocketing as the escalating conflict between Ukraine and Russia alters the world economy.
Yet the view of the county's chief engineer, Carl Schoedel, is the project already has overcome all major hurdles.
Funding for the $135 million project is in place, including the sale of $28 million in bonds to finance the toll collection component. Excluding the mound of lead-contaminated soil, most of the labor is complete.
Even late-blooming concerns about the impact of the project on the rusty patched bumblebee are resolved.
And there aren't any overt signs of protest against the project staked into the front lawns or plastered to the barns visible from the parkway anymore. But like that feeling of being watched from the overlook, there still is lingering opposition.
Chris Kious, who represents Algonquin on the county board, is the most outspoken voice -- and vote -- against the Longmeadow project. But at this late stage, the thoughts of people chaining themselves to the 100-year-old oak trees that once stood in the construction zone are more bitter memory than active protest.
These days, Kious' sights are on the life span of the future toll that will be charged to repay the bonds and finance future maintenance of the parkway.
"Most people have grown to accept that it's there," Kious said. "Now it's more of a, 'There's going to be a toll on it? Really?'"
The 95-cent toll is billed as a use tax. It's one Frasz and other proponents see as a backdoor way to get nearby residents of McHenry and Cook counties to help pay for the project and its maintenance.
It's that ongoing maintenance that Kious sees as the greatest enemy to the toll ever sunsetting and the ability for opponents to absolve the sins of progress.
"We did need a bridge; there's no denying that," Kious said. "There will be those that just don't get over it, and there will be those who just can't wait for it to open so they can make their commute shorter. But you're never going to get all people to love the Longmeadow Parkway if it has a toll on it."