After years in limbo, is it go-time for Route 53 extension land to become greenway?

State task force about to suggest resolution

A state task force studying the future of about 1,100 acres of Lake County land purchased for the now-defunct Route 53 extension will issue recommendations next month, officials said.

One important decision is whether to transfer the $54 million asset from the Illinois Department of Transportation to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources so it can be converted into a greenway with natural areas and trails.

While there's momentum on the 19-person panel to approve a resolution switching the property to IDNR, there are some sticking points.

One of those is how IDOT - if it relinquishes the land - is able to make necessary improvements to roads along the corridor of land it acquired with the intent of expanding Route 53 north.

The Route 53 Land Expansion Alternative Use Task Force will reconvene in December with legislative legal experts on hand, said Co-Chair and state Sen. Melinda Bush.

"We're hoping to have a resolution wrapped up before the holidays," said Bush, a Grayslake Democrat. The advisory group is required to make its recommendations by Dec. 31.

One draft resolution discussed at a Nov. 21 meeting suggests transferring all parcels to the IDNR and creating a working group by Jan. 31 to formulate plans for a state park or trail and other natural areas, plus identify funding for maintenance and staffing.

The draft resolution also notes that creating the greenway and preserving wetlands will be useful in flood prevention, encourage ecotourism, protect endangered species and encourage healthy activities for residents.

An updated resolution will include tweaks to allow for IDOT road improvements.

Mundelein Mayor Steve Lenz, a task force member, said his village board thinks the land is better kept in IDOT's hands to allow flexibility for transportation needs in the future. In the interim, the corridor could accommodate green space, athletic fields and nature trails, Lentz said, acknowledging he's in the minority.

Others members, including Midwest Sustainability Group Executive Director Barbara Klipp, think it's a rare opportunity to create a natural asset.

Ideally, the corridor would feature protected natural areas, a state park and a nature trail "so really delicate, fragile ecosystems would get protection," she said.

The state government spent decades acquiring land for a Route 53 extension north from its terminus near the Lake/Cook border, intended to fix traffic gridlock along Lake County arterial roads.

The Illinois tollway in the 2010s took over the project and a Blue Ribbon Committee spent months to come up with a parkway design.

But disagreements on the astronomical cost and size of the road, and an ongoing debate about environmental damage versus congestion relief, derailed the project in 2019, when the tollway dropped its sponsorship, citing a lack of consensus.

The General Assembly in 2021 approved the task force, which first met last December.

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What now with Route 53 extension land? State lawmakers create task force to decide

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