Officials working on plans to extend Illinois Highway 53 into Lake County met Thursday to discuss ways to pay for the project, with an eye toward figuring out the financing this year.

With the extension projected to cost between $2.56 billion and $2.87 billion, a group of municipal leaders, civic groups, environmentalists and others has been tasked by the Illinois Tollway with finding ways to make up approximately $2 billion not expected to be covered by tolls paid by drivers.

The committee met in Libertyville in the third in a series of meetings aimed at determining how to make the extension a reality.

“It is our goal to get this road built,” said Doug Whitley, president and CEO of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and co-chair of the committee. “That means we have to be attentive to rolling up our sleeves and finding a way to do it.”

The proposal — which has been debated for decades — calls for Route 53 to be extended 121/2 miles north from its current endpoint at Lake Cook Road, ultimately meeting up with a 14-mile corridor along east-west Highway 120 near Grayslake.

Officials said they hope to have an idea of where the money will come from by the end of the year.

One of the funding ideas being discussed is to add tolls along Route 53 between I-355 and Lake Cook Road, though Whitley said that possibility was not a top contender.

“We haven’t closed the door on that, but we’re not prepared at this time to bring that forward,” he said.

The committee also discussed forming a series of tax increment financing districts or special service areas along the route, with any revenue being put back into the construction of the road.

Officials plan to meet again next month to further discuss funding sources, some of which include levying gas or sales taxes in Lake County, with the proceeds going toward the project.

Rocco Zucchero, the Illinois Tollway’s deputy chief of engineering, also pointed to a handful of nearby projects — such as the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway — undertaken through cost-sharing.

Towns, for example, could pay for the cost of interchanges — which would lead drivers into town and, according to officials, help spur development in the surrounding area.

The tentative plan is to use an electronic system to charge drivers 20 cents per mile on the extended road, though Aimee Lee, senior manager of strategic planning and programming for the Illinois Tollway, said that number isn’t set in stone.

By May, officials said, they hope to have more detailed estimates on how much revenue tolls will generate and determine how much will be able to be paid for through bonds.

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