After decades of turmoil, task force is ready to vote on whether to convert $54.3 million Lake County land purchased for highways into greenways and possible state parks .
It took the Illinois Department of Transportation 48 years to gather 1,100 acres of land to extend Route 53 from Cook County to Lake County and reduce traffic.
But in 2019, lake residents were so divided on building the $2.7 billion road that the last sponsor, Illinois Toll Road, left the project behind shortly after Gov. JB Pritzker took office.
If the Highway 53 Task Force approves the transfer of all or most of the land from IDOT to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, who makes the final decision?
It will be Pritzker and agency leaders, the governor’s office confirmed Thursday — with a funding warning.
“Please note that the Department of Natural Resources will not accept land without adequate funding for its operation and regular maintenance,” spokesman Alex Gough said.
“The administration is making clear to task force members and interested stakeholders about the state’s need for land portfolios in line with the resources that the General Assembly is willing to allocate.”
So far, the task force, which includes legislators, mayors and environmental groups, appears to be leaning toward taking IDOT and donating to IDNR.
But in addition to budgeting, there are other problems.
At its November 21 meeting, IDOT opposed the discretionary land donation, noting that state highways such as Routes 60 and 83 pass through the corridor.
“We want to make sure that we provide a buffer along these corridors so that we don’t have a situation where every property along the corridor is somehow designated and then we have to deal with complicated messes. It’s a plan that’s already in place to widen the road,” said John Bachek, Program Development Engineer.
State legal experts are struggling to navigate these knots when the task force reconvenes this month.
At that meeting, Mundelein Mayor Steve Lentz casts a “no” vote. Village hopes to keep the property on his IDOT as an interim open space with flexible uses such as agriculture and recreation.
“If we continue to grow, we will eventually need another corridor in central Lake County. That’s Mandelein’s position,” Mr. Lentz said.
Environmentalists smelling victorious continue to highlight the benefits of the proposed greenway. Plans range from state parks with nature trails to conservation of rare wetlands that protect endangered species and reduce flooding.
Volunteers from grassroots groups such as Livable Lake County have reached out to 500 families and nearly all have agreed to the transfer, organizer Sam Beard said at the Mundelein board meeting on Nov. 28.
“Clearly releasing this land from the hands of road builders and handing it over to conservation agencies is clearly the first step necessary to protect this site,” Beard said.
Before the ribbon cutting, it’s probably a good idea to have a communication strategy in place. For all stakeholders who are passionate about this issue, many in the region are learning that a new state park is being born.
“I don’t know who’s pushing this Greenway,” commented South Elgin reader Michael Stone last week. He believes, “If a highway can and should be built, it should be Route 53.”
But Bill Morris, a former state senator for Grays Lake and head of the Toll Road Commission, argues that Greenway is not only an environmental treasure for Lakes, but also solves transportation problems.
For years, the county lagged behind state highway budgets because the conventional wisdom was, “Wait for Route 53 and the problem will be solved,” Morris said.
He theorized that if the extension was indeed complete, useful projects such as the overpasses of U.S. 120 and U.S. 83 would be worth the state’s revenue.
Morris, who is in his 70s, said, “I hope this issue is resolved before I’m planted.
The Chicago City Planning Agency will host a free Americans with Disabilities Legal Workshop in early 2023. For more information, visit cmap.illinois.gov/programs/accessibility/ada-training.
you should know
Registration is now open for Metra’s 16th Annual Safety Poster and Essay Contest for students in grades K-12 in the metropolitan area. This year’s theme is “Stay Safe, Stay Off Train Tracks”. For more information, please visit metra.com/contest.