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Traffic headaches could ease on Milwaukee Avenue

Construction-weary drivers may socatch break north downtown Libertyville. State officials say all lanes routes 21 137 are expected open by

Construction-weary drivers may soon catch a break north of downtown Libertyville. State officials say all lanes on routes 21 and 137 are expected to open by Christmas. | File

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Updated: February 12, 2014 3:36AM

For George Roman, road construction north of downtown Libertyville has been anything but a smooth ride.

The Green Oaks man opened his second car washing business about two years ago on Route 137, just as the state began a $23 million project.

He’s slashed prices, offered deals, brainstormed with other small business owners to attract construction-weary shoppers to the area.

But as the roadwork crawled on, Roman says he has been forced to take out “loans on top of loans” to keep Splash Hand Car Wash and Detail afloat.

“It’s past the point of ridiculous,” Roman, 52, said.

Even news that the headaches could soon let up doesn’t leave Roman looking on the bright side. The Illinois Department of Transportation expects all lanes on routes 21 and 137 to open to motorists by Christmas, weather permitting, spokeswoman Jae Miller said in an email.

“It will always go down in my thought as something totally done wrong,” Roman said.

IDOT is in the midst of pouring turn lanes. The work will still continue into 2014 when crews add finishing touches like landscaping.

The project is widening Milwaukee, or Route 21, from two to four lanes along a roughly two-mile stretch from south of Route 120 to south of Route 137.

The intersection of routes 21 and 137 also is being widened with more modern traffic signals. A new bridge over Bull Creek and a new trail underpass south of Casey Road are among other improvements.

Libertyville officials are devising a marketing plan to help reach out to customers who have been shopping elsewhere. Businesses are adjusting their sales schedules in anticipation of the new traffic configurations, Economic Development Coordinator Heather Rowe said.

“We’re looking forward to (the lanes) reopening and kind of a renewed energy for the businesses there,” Rowe said.

Mark Khayat estimates that he’s lost about 30 percent of the potential lunch-hour diners at Austin’s Saloon & Eatery. The makeup of the lunch crowd has changed, too. Employees from corporate campuses like Abbott Laboratories have avoided the area, the restaurant’s owner said.

But lunch specials — coupled with gains during dinnertime — have helped offset the loss, Khayat said.

Still, he’s itching for the lanes to reopen.

“I’m ecstatic,” Khayat said.

Roman said he’s not sure what more he can do before the maze of barricades and equipment eases. His Northbrook location has buoyed his Libertyville one, where he’s tried buy-one-wash-get-another-free promotions.

“That’s still not bringing them in,” Roman said.

He blasted state officials who originally scheduled the lion’s share of the project to wrap up by late summer. But the relocation of utility lines delayed construction for months in 2012.

“If things are done in a timely manner than nobody minds,” Roman said.

He’s cautiously awaiting the final product.

“Hopefully, it will be behind us,” he said.

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