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Many urge Illinois Tollway to build Route 53 extension in Lake County

At a recent public hearing, discussion of what the Illinois Tollway should to do with the Illinois Route 53 extension into Lake County carried a common theme among many speakers: Build it.

About 150 people gathered Aug. 19 at the Libertyville Civic Center to voice their opinions about a $12 billion capital plan to guide Illinois Toll Highway Authority road projects through 2026.

The proposal calls for increasing tolls from 40 cents to 75 cents for I-Pass users, widening Interstate 90, extending the Elgin-O’Hare Expressway — and more study for extending Route 53 into Lake County.

Illinois Tollway Director Bill Morris was a senior in high school when the Illinois Route 53 extension was first proposed. Now a grandfather, Morris has proposed a less expensive plan that would not require a drastic toll hike – and would include a Route 53 construction project.

In addition to blasting the tollway’s proposal for being too expensive, Morris criticized the plan for its lack of a construction plan to extend Illinois Route 53, which now ends at Lake-Cook Road.

“That project would have to wait another 15 years to be built,” Morris said.

Characterizing the Lake County region as more congested than the area around the Elgin-O’Hare expressway, Morris urged those who support extending Illinois Route 53 to make their support known.

He was backed by many people at the meeting, including Lake County Board Chairman David Stolman, who said that extending Illinois Route 53 would reduce traffic congestion.

“We beg of you to be flexible enough, because we need a funding plan for construction,” Stolman said.

Stolman is also a member of the Illinois Route 53 Blue Ribbon Advisory Council.

As has been the case at other public hearings, speakers representing the construction industry supported the tollway plan because it would create jobs. They punctuated their comments with strong support for a Route 53 extension.

“The Route 53 extension is not only a Lake County issue, it’s a McHenry County issue,” said Daniel Schrader, speaking on behalf of Operating Engineers Local 150. “I would say that’s one of the most needed parts of this.”

Bobby Gaylor, who owns an excavating company based in Ringwood, said Route 53 should extend into Wisconsin as it was once conceived. He noted that his parents sold their home as right-of-way for the project.

“We need it. We need it bad,” Gaylor said. “We really need to do something to lower congestion.”

Mike Sturino, who spoke on behalf of road contractors and is a member of the Route 53 Blue Ribbon Advisory Council, said he supports the tollway’s plan. He called for a cautious approach to Route 53 construction.

“Route 53 should be a priority. It’s got to be done in an environmentally sensitive way,” Sturino said. “We all want to see a sound, integrated transportation system in northern Illinois.”

Illinois Rep. Sandy Cole (R-62) was greeted with cheers and claps when she called the proposed rate increases as “unjustifiable, unreasonable and irresponsible” at a time when unemployment is high and the economy is slow

Former Tollway Director Betty Ann More urged people to trust the plan developed by tollway officials.

“I have never been in favor of Route 53 for environmental reasons,” More said. “It’s going to be a very expensive road.”

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