'With fire in my belly' to avoid toll, chair to urge Longmeadow funding from other counties, state
The next few months may decide the ultimate fate of the toll portion of the Longmeadow Parkway.
Kane County Chair Corinne Pierog said during a virtual state-of-the-county address Friday she will focus her near-term efforts "with fire in my belly" on pushing for a combination of state and county funds to eliminate the toll before the entire parkway opens to traffic.
Soil contaminated with lead is the only remaining delay in finishing the 5.6-mile corridor on the northern end of Kane County.
Kane County Division of Transportation officials have a new plan to clean up that dirt and finish the project by the fall of 2024. If more money for Longmeadow is found by then, it will become the only locally operated bridge with a toll in the entire state.
The toll was planned because Kane County officials couldn't get enough state or federal funds in the ramp-up to construction to avoid borrowing money, via a bond, to fund the project. The total bond payment is about $35 million.
The bond seemed to make the need for a toll to pay off that debt inevitable after county officials failed to squeeze any more cash out of the state to pay off the bond as construction began. But state lawmakers included $17.5 million for Longmeadow in the current budget.
That would likely reduce the amount of the toll, but it would not eliminate the need for one, according to county officials at the time the money came through.
Since then, Pierog said, she's worked to change the image of the project from a Kane County bridge to a regional bridge. Both Cook and McHenry counties are expected to see economic growth stemming from the opening of the parkway, via improved access, though neither county has made any financial contributions to the project.
Pierog said she's asked Cook and McHenry County officials to contribute $1 million each to the parkway. Kane County Board members also allocated $3 million of federal COVID relief money to the parkway project.
If all that cash comes through, that still leaves the project about $12.5 million short of eliminating the toll.
Pierog said she's hoping state lawmakers can find that money during discussions about the state's fiscal 2024 budget to eliminate the toll.
"I'll go down (to Springfield) with fire in my belly and advocating to get rid of this toll finally and forever," Pierog said. "The last thing I want in Kane County is to be known for the only local toll bridge in Illinois."