Battle Lines Drawn as State Studies Proposed Lake County Tollway

The idea has been discussed for five decades

Quietly, with little fanfare, a 50-year-old idea for a new tollway in Lake County is gaining traction.

And many residents say they are worried.

The proposed road, an extension of Route 53 north to Route 120, has been on the drawing boards so many times in the past, that the state already owns much of the land it would need. Problem is, that strip of greenspace, which appears like a long skinny runway when viewed from the air, is now bordered by scores of homes, many of them built decades ago.

In other words, this is a “not in my backyard” fight, where some residents would have a new toll road--- literally in their back yards.

The estimated tab? About $2.6 billion dollars. And at 20 cents a mile, the tolls on the proposed road would be the highest on the Illinois Tollway system.

“It makes you think, here we go again Illinois, another boondoggle,” says Long Grove resident Tony Dean. “Everyone says they are for a road, until they find out what it’s going to cost.”

The road would stretch for twelve and a half miles, from the existing terminus of Route 53 at Lake Cook Road. Reaching Route 120 on the north, it would branch to I-94 on the east, and route 12 to the west.

Backers insist they are conscious of the region’s pastoral nature, noting the roadway is envisioned as a 4 lane, 45 mile per hour parkway.

“This is not your grandpa’s tollway,” says Lake County chairman Aaron Lawlor. “We’ve envisioned a depressed roadway to mitigate noise and pollution, far different than anything we’ve ever considered.”

Lawlor argues that the region is choking in traffic, and that the proposed toll road would provide much needed relief.

“By using 2040 projections, you’d save 30 minutes on a trip from Grayslake to Schaumburg in peak hours,” he said. “We know we have a traffic problem in Lake County, and we know we have to address it.”

But even residents who concede the need for traffic relief, question how the state would pay for all of that new concrete. One financial study envisions everything from increased tolls on Lake County portions of the Tri-State tollway, to increased gas taxes, and a novel concept to capture 25% of the increase in real estate taxes for adjacent businesses. Congestion pricing would be used, varying tolls on the new road.

One previous study concluded, “a systemwide toll increase should be considered.”

But even after all funding options were explored, the finance report noted “a funding gap of $1.36 billion to $1.91 billion.”

“It’s just upside down,” says resident Marsha Marshal. “It’s a backward plan.”

The state has just embarked on a $50 million environmental impact study, to determine the road’s feasibility and possible environmental consequences.

“I haven’t seen an environmental impact study that has ever stopped a project,” Dean said. “The only way an EIS has stopped a project is when a federal judge intervenes.”

Lawlor says he understands the residents’ concerns, but insists a “no-build” option is very real, and that nothing is a foregone conclusion.

“If this road isn’t built the way we’ve envisioned, that respects the environment, the communities it goes through, I’m going to be on the other side of the issue,” he said. “We know that something needs to happen up here. We are living in traffic.”

For their part, Tollway officials promised a transparent process, but refused NBC5 requests for an interview.

“We understand that the lengthy process of an EIS study can be an emotional and difficult process,” the Tollway said in a statement. “Moving forward with an EIS is the best way to answer the questions residents, businesses and those who use those roads have.”

“An EIS will provide a comprehensive study with a thorough and comprehensive evaluation detailing a full range of alternatives and the impacts of each,” the statement said. “These discussions will include residents, businesses, users of the road, the Tollway, Lake County, and IDOT.”

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