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Route 53 on priority list: Extension decision could come early next year

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Updated: April 2, 2011 5:24PM

A decision on the status of the proposed extension of Route 53 into Lake County could be made by the Illinois Tollway Board of Directors early next year.

The long-considered project is prominent on a list of capital projects the board is considering as it looks toward its future.

Tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur said Wednesday at a meeting of the Transportation Management Association of Lake-Cook in Deerfield that the Route 53 extension has received a priority rating from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and “it clearly will receive our board’s attention in the months to come.”

“We clearly heard from many in the community that it is very important,” she said.

If the estimated $2.2 billion northern extension of Route 53 into central Lake County — along with its companion project, the proposed east-west Route 120 bypass — is selected as a top priority, Lafleur stressed that construction would still be several years into the future.

In addition to the need to lock into a funding source, Lafleur said that if a decision is made to move forward with the extension as a tollway project, officials would have to “restart” environmental and land-use studies that could take at least a year and a half to complete.

Patricia Berry, a principal planner with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, who was at Wednesday’s meeting, said the agency has ranked the Route 53 extension “number one in its affect on regionwide congestion.”

That ranking is contained in CMAP’s “Go to 2040” plan.

The Route 53 project was among a group of potential projects that the Tollway Board has received presentations on in recent months. Also included in that group are the proposed I-294/I-57 interchange and the Elgin-O’Hare West Bypass.

Lafleur said the Illinois Tollway “is at a tipping point in making some key strategic decisions about what’s best for our region.”

She said an emphasis is being put on both public transparency and planning creativity, and that major projects in the future will likely include public transit components, not just future plans for such transit options.

The Transportation Management Association of Lake-Cook is among the strong supporters of the Route 53 project.

“We have a vested interest in that project,” said Bill Baltutis, the association’s executive director. “A lot of businesses have a vested interest in that project.”

Lake County and a consortium of municipalities have worked together in building alocal consensus for the Route 53 and Route 120 projects, and have lobbied for state funding or the Route 120 project.

In a countywide referendum last year, 76 percent of voters said they were in favor of the proposed Route 53 extension north to Route 120.

A determination has not been made as to whether the separate Route 120 project could be a toll road if it moves forward. County officials were disappointed earlier this year when the Illinois Department of Transportation did not include money for the Route 120 improvement project in its latest five-year budget.

The county and municipalities had asked the state for $19 million to cover phase one engineering costs for the estimated $500 million project. Officials said the lack of state funding put at risk $2.3 million in federal funding for Route 120 secured by U.S. Rep. Melissa Bean, D-Barrington.

The Route 120 proposal calls for widening the current road to a four-lane arterial highway between Volo and Almond Road in Gurnee, with a seven-mile bypass in the Grayslake area that would separate local and regional traffic.

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