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New Route 53 Blue Ribbon Advisory Council Has One Year To Decide Fate Of Proposed Extension

The Council, made up of elected officials and representatives from many groups in and around Lake County, was created by the Illinois Tollway Authority to determine whether or not to move forward with the 12.5 mile extension.

A new Blue Ribbon Advisory Council created by the Illinois Toll Highway Authority has one year to make recommendations on whether or not to proceed with the proposed extension of Route 53, said Kristi Lafleur, Illinois tollway executive director at an Illinois Tollway Capital Planning Forum on Friday, July 15.

The council, co-chaired by , Lake County Board
chair, and George Ranney, president and CEO of Metropolis Strategies and Prairie Holdings Corp., is comprised of elected officials, business representatives, planning agencies, and environmental and labor groups.

If the Council recommends approving the extension, it also must develop an idea of the scope, timing, configuration, design and elements for it. “We’ve got the right people at the table, willing to talk, to compromise, to bring it to fruition,” said state Sen. Terry Link, an ex-officio member of the council.

The proposed tollway would extend Route 53 more than 12 miles from Lake-Cook Road to Route 120 at a cost of about $1.2 billion. Lafleur said more than 120,000 jobs would be created, including more than 13,000 construction-related jobs over the next 14 years. Many proponents of the extension said that aside from relieving congestion on the roads, local economies would be boosted because more businesses would locate to Lake County.

“When CMAP (Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning) took the time to look at all projects in the seven-county region, this one has the most impact for congestion and economic development,” said Elliott Hartstein, former Buffalo Grove mayor.

Recent developments in technology, such as open-road tolling and road construction have changed the way in which the tollway could be built. During the meeting the ideas of what the proposed extension could look like were likened to a wide boulevard with the possibilities of roundabouts. CMAP’s idea of the tollway calls for an urban highway that has a smaller footprint and is more environmentally sensitive than current tollways.

If the extension is approved, it must be financially sustainable, have community support, maximize existing assets, promote economic growth, foster environmental responsibility and be consistent with regional transportation plans. 

“We want to avoid a Los Angeles type of freeway,” Ranney said.

In a 2009 advisory referendum, 75 percent of voters approved the extension, although wording of the referendum did not explain how the tollway would be paid for. A county map of the referendum results shows that voters along the area in which the road would be built are against it. The Illinois Tollway system does not receive federal or state funds for maintenance and operations.

State Reps.  and Ed Sullivan Jr. attended the meeting because their districts will be directly affected if the Route 53 is extended.

“All the red on the map is my district. But the referendum has said we want the project; I think we need to find a way to get this done,” Sullivan said.

Sente said she likes the possibility of combining mass transit in Lake County with the proposed tollway, but wants to be environmentally sensitive. “We need to be creative in how we build it,” she said.  

The land for the extension is owned by the state, and tollway officials said that if the extension is approved, the state will give the land to the tollway authority. Taxpayers will not pay twice for the land.

The proposed extension already has the backing of the Lake County Board, at least 12 municipalities in Lake County, 18 municipalities east of Route 47 in McHenry County, and is on the CMAP GO TO 2040 Plan.  

One more forum will be held at 10 a.m., Monday, July 18, at the DuPage County Government Center in Wheaton. Comments also can be submitted online at www.illinoistollway.com.

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