Panel reviews $300M plan for potential Route 53 ‘unintended consequences’

Pointing to flooding issues around Casey Road five years after Route 45 was widened south of Route 120, Mike Warner with the Lake County Stormwater Management Commission said “there’s always going to be unintended consequences” when it comes to road improvements.

Warner offered this observation on Tuesday, Aug. 27, to a group studying a much larger road-improvement concept: the extension of Route 53 north of Lake Cook Road into Lake County.

With that rule in mind, members of the Illinois Tollway’s Environmental Stewardship Fund subcommittee reviewed two basic provisions that would come with the proposed $2.87 billion roadway:

• Create a $242 million reserve — the stewardship fund — to address expected direct impacts that include establishment or conversion of wetlands, establishment of new floodplains and dealing with increased stormwater runoff.

• Spending about $65 million to purchase an additional 750 acres around the 25-mile, Route 53/120 corridor to deal with indirect environmental impacts, including the stormwater runoff described by Warner. Other examples of indirect or long-term impacts reviewed on Tuesday included hydrologic changes in wetlands, water-quality degradation and erosion of streams.

Everything discussed at the meeting in Libertyville is contingent upon whether or not the Illinois Tollway decides to go ahead with the overall project, which would extend Route 53 from Lake Cook Road on the south to Route 120 in Grayslake, where 120 would also be redeveloped between Interstate 94 and the Round Lakes area.

With a feasibility analysis due in early 2015, subcommittee members looked to sharpen the definitions of direct and indirect impacts of building the roadway. At one point, consulting engineer Mike Matkovic told the panel that when it comes to matters like increased stormwater runoff, “we might be 10 years down the road [and] we may have secondary results anywhere in the county.”

Offering an example, Matkovic said an extended Route 53 “should have a positive impact on air quality from a regional standpoint” by eliminating backups, but it might also create what he called “hot spots” in communities along the corridor where traffic builds up and creates new air issues.

When it comes to direct impacts and the stewardship fund, the project’s Blue Ribbon Advisory Council recommended in May 2012 that 4 percent of the total project cost should be used for “additional land acquisition and ecological restoration” at sites like the Indian Creek Marsh, the Liberty Prairie Reserve near Libertyville, the Squaw Creek watershed between Lake Villa and Hawthorn Woods, and the Surrey Marsh in Long Grove.

Another finance subcommittee meeting is scheduled for Friday, Aug. 29, when a tolling and Motor Fuel Tax working group is slated to gather at noon in the Lake County Division of Transportation office in Libertyville.

Among the items on that agenda is discussion of preferred options when it comes to using a Lake County gas tax or increased tolls on the current Tollway system to help fund construction of Route 53.

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