The Illinois Tollway Authority voted Thursday to spend another $25 million to study a proposed extension of Route 53 North into Lake County, a project with origins in the early sixties which has already been the subject of numerous studies without any actual construction taking place.
“I think we’re up to about $100 million in studies,” said Barbara Klipp, of Livable Lake County. “With no road---today!”
The proposed toll road has the potential to be the most expensive on the Illinois Tollway system, and while supporters say it would provide badly-needed congestion relief, opponents say it could trigger toll increases system-wide.
“This project is Illinois’ most preeminent boondoggle,” Long Grove resident Anthony Dean told the Tollway board, questioning how much driving time the road would actually save. “When we look at the damages that would be done to villages and environments what do we get after spending $3 billion plus? Maybe 10 minutes?”
The state already owns a corridor where the proposed highway would be built. But that land has been fallow for decades, and is now lined with sometimes palacial homes where residents wince at the idea of four lanes of traffic being cut through their back yards.
“To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” said Vanessa Griffin of Hawthorn Woods. “And you’re the people who build toll roads!”
But for every opponent who rose to speak, a supporter took to the podium as well. Most hailed from construction and engineering firms with more than a passing interest in contracts and jobs. But all spoke of the project’s potential merits.
“I’m asking that the board recognize the silent majority,” said Mike Sterino of the Illinois Roadbuilders Associaton. “A vocal minority should not be allowed to stop progress!”
Julie Chamberlin of Berger Engineering spoke of horrific traffic tie-ups, and said the time is long overdue to fix them.
“We need to make progress,” she said. “I grew up hearing about this project. It’s still not moving!”
Everyone agrees the area is choked with traffic. The question, of course, is how to fix it. After two hours of sometimes contentious debate, the Tollway board voted unanimously to proceed with the study. Chairman Robert Schillerstrom acknowledged the opponents questions.
“We believe and the board believes this study will answer those questions fully and completely,” he said.
But opponents called the study still another waste of money.
“It’s Illinois at its worst---God help us,” said former State Senator William Morris. “It’s not the $25 million----you don’t have the $3 billion to build the road, even if they said you could!”
No one will be building any road any time soon. The study is expected to take at least 3 to 5 years to complete.