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Route 53 extension battle appears to end after nearly three generations

Friday, Jul 12, 2019

* Background from Marni Pyke

There’s only one consensus on extending Route 53 into Lake County and that is — the issue has dragged on for many years.

Since the 1970s, the project has been studied multiple times, analyzed to death in myriad committees and voted on in a 2009 referendum where residents said yes.

This month will mark another turning point. The Lake County Board could put the Route 53 extension on the back burner at a meeting Tuesday.

If they do, the Illinois tollway — the latest entity to carry the Route 53 torch — might announce it’s pulling the plug on a related $25 million environmental study this month.

The fight over the extension into Lake County has been raging since the early 1960s. And the Lake County Board did, indeed, put the route extension on the back burner this week.

* Today…

Three recently elected Democratic County Board Members are praising the Pritzker Administration’s decision today to end the most recent study of the long-controversial Route 53 extension. Moving on from this project after nearly 60 years of uncertainty will allow Lake County to better explore comprehensive, 21st Century solutions to our transportation needs.

Jessica Vealitzek (D-Hawthorn Woods) said, “I applaud the decision by the Tollway Authority. There are many things we can do to relieve congestion in Lake County, but extending one road for $3 billion isn’t the solution. It’s going to take more than that–a 21st-century, comprehensive transportation plan.”

Julie Simpson (D-Vernon Hills) said “I want to thank Governor Pritzker, the Tollway board, and everyone who fought along side us to put this environmentally devastating, fiscally irresponsible, archaic project to bed. We will now be able to move forward with a modern transportation plan to address the many infrastructure needs that have been held hostage for the last 50+ years.”

Adam Didech (D-Buffalo Grove) said “We’re finally free of a 60-year-old albatross. This decision, coupled with the Governor’s successful capital bill, puts Lake County on a path toward modern, comprehensive solutions to our transportation needs. I’m glad we’ll be moving forward with consensus projects like the Route 22 expansion.”

All 3 Democratic members were elected to the Board in 2018, replacing long-time Republican supporters of the now-scuttled project.

* Press release…

The Village of Hawthorn Woods thanks Illinois Tollway Executive Director José Alvarez for terminating this latest round of studies on the controversial Route 53 Extension. This decision appears to recognize that the same conditions that have derailed every other bid to extend Route 53 – a glaring lack of political consensus in support of the project and a chronic shortage of funds to build it – remain facts of life today.

We hope that this decision represents the permanent demise of the proposed extension, so that Lake County can begin efforts to make the transportation improvements that we can all agree on. Those concepts include arterial lane widenings, grade separations where roads cross railroads, and enhanced commuter rail service. After all, these common-sense and cost-effective improvements to the Lake County’s transportation system have languished for decades, while one futile effort after another was mounted to extend Route 53.

In the wake of this decision, we call on the Tollway, the Illinois Department of Transportation, and the Federal Highway Administration to decommission the Route 53 corridor and work with relevant state and local agencies to convert it into a permanent greenway for public recreational use and environmental stewardship.

Dating back to when the state first proposed the extension in the 1960s, it has spent massive sums of money on repeated studies of the project and land purchases linked to its right-of-way. And each time, those efforts resulted in the same outcome: An admission that there is too much opposition, too little money, and to great of a negative impact to the environment to warrant the continued studies of the project. And all that time, Lake County commuters remained mired in traffic congestion that could have been eased through other avenues.

After six decades, the record is clear: Grassroots opposition to the project is staunch; money to build it is too scarce; and the irreparable damage it would inflict on Lake County’s treasured, but fragile, natural areas is severe.

Let’s put our roadbuilders to work now, instead of lining the pockets of consultants with millions of dollars that could be invested in our infrastructure. With this decision in place, Lake County can finally advance our local plan to effectively relieve traffic congestion, protect the beauty of its landscape, and enhance our collective quality of life.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - NoGifts - Friday, Jul 12, 19 @ 12:10 pm:

    This is a temporary situation. The project is not going away because it is needed.

  2. - Excitable Boy - Friday, Jul 12, 19 @ 12:14 pm:

    NoGifts, you should change your handle to Onoda.

  3. - Wylie Coyote - Friday, Jul 12, 19 @ 12:23 pm:

    And these are the same Lake County residents who complain traffic is so bad. Sheesh.

  4. - phocion - Friday, Jul 12, 19 @ 12:32 pm:

    There’s no “Plan B” and these politicians know it.

  5. - What's in a name? - Friday, Jul 12, 19 @ 12:32 pm:

    Not to beat a traffic metaphor to death but part of the problem is the need to pick a lane. While the project flickered on life support it created other planning paralysis. If it dead, the community can finally make other real plans. I don’t know enough about the project one way or there other on its merits but sometimes any decision is better than no decision.

  6. - NoGifts - Friday, Jul 12, 19 @ 12:36 pm:

    -Excitable Boy- LOL, just watch. It’s not just most of Lake County who wants the project, McHenry County needs this project too. Adding capacity to the existing road system sounds good in theory but will be pretty inconvenient for all the towns with major roads passing through their downtowns.

  7. - Huh? - Friday, Jul 12, 19 @ 12:46 pm:

    Lake county cutting their nose off despite themselves.

  8. - Annonin' - Friday, Jul 12, 19 @ 12:52 pm:

    Yikes And now property owners who bought lots on the rights of way for cheap or cheaper want a green space? That is rich. How about high density multi=family t overcome the housing deserts in Lake Co.? BTW there is still desperate need for road expansion and improvement given generally failed land use plans

  9. - Just Me - Friday, Jul 12, 19 @ 12:57 pm:

    Lake County’s biggest transportation problems stem from Senator Geo-Karis refusing to allow the county to have a transportation tax. That decision has held the county back from improving all its other roads and infrastructure compared to its neighbors.

  10. - Ok - Friday, Jul 12, 19 @ 1:05 pm:

    Sounds like the perfect job for Elon Musk and a tunnel…

  11. - Froganon - Friday, Jul 12, 19 @ 1:55 pm:

    Building highways to ease congestion is like loosening your belt to lose weight. It feels better for awhile but doesn’t solve the problem. Improving arterials and adding transit options can reduce congestion.

  12. - Precinct Captain - Friday, Jul 12, 19 @ 2:20 pm:

    Lake County needs a comprehensive transportation solution, not a $3 billion extension to a single road. Even employers are complaining that there are not enough public transportation options to Lake County.

  13. - Simple Simon - Friday, Jul 12, 19 @ 2:45 pm:

    Lots of roads get built despite environmental damage similar to that expected from this project. This is just NIMBY-ism to the extreme. Just wait until these communities want improved access to 294 and 53…you’ll see environmental damage and community concerns swept under the rug.

  14. - Six Degrees of Separation - Friday, Jul 12, 19 @ 2:58 pm:

    When an arterial highway with stoplights every 1/4 mile is your highest form of transportation, it will put your county at a competitive disadvantage with counties with expressways, especially for commerce and industry. And I am all for increasing public transit options as I am a user myself, but there is a limitation on what it can achieve, just as there is a limitation on what expressways can do. It’s just as difficult to build a new-route rail line as it is a new-route highway these days, and the days of rail expansion in the late 1800s and highway expansion in the 1950s are in the rear view mirror. Improving existing facilities seems to be the most practical, given current realities.

  15. - Evanston - Friday, Jul 12, 19 @ 3:38 pm:

    Stop the endless studies and build it already. It is needed.

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