Story originally published here.

More than a year after recommending that the Illinois Tollway pursue construction of a roadway in central Lake County, members of the Route 53/120 Blue Ribbon Advisory Council (BRAC) reconvened last week to begin discussing the cold-cash realities of making that happen.

“A lot of work was done in this first round, but ultimately, these projects come down to ‘how are you going to pay for them?’” said Doug Whitley, CEO and president Illinois Chamber of Commerce and co-chair of the Transportation for Illinois Coalition, at a Sept. 17 meeting in Libertyville.

Whitley noted that even when the advisory council included options like tolls and federal funding for a project that was estimated between $2.3 billion and $2.7 billion, “there was a gap, so there’s going to be a lot of effort put forth to make sure we find a way to finance this (project).”

Aimee Lee, Illinois Tollway senior manager of strategic planning and programming, said the agency will launch a finance committee next month that will take the BRAC guidelines and “ultimately answer two questions: Is this project feasible, and should the Tollway build it?”

“Central to these questions,” Lee added, “is whether or not the tollway can develop a sustainable and viable financial plan to not just support the capital expenditures of the project but also the ongoing operations and maintenance of this facility.”

The council’s June 2012 recommendation called for a construction of a four-lane, limited-access, tolled parkway with a maximum speed limit of 45 mph.

The roadway would extend north from Route 53’s current dead-end at Lake Cook Road up to Grayslake, where Route 120 could also be realigned as a similar east-west roadway between I-94 and Route 12.

The 2012 report stated that the council “understands that other revenue options will be necessary to fund the project,” offering suggestions that included adding tolls to Route 53 south of Lake Cook Road and adjusting rates at the Waukegan Toll Plaza.

The new finance committee is scheduled to produce a recommendation for the Illinois Tollway Board of Directors by the end of 2014. Also between now and then, a land-use committee will explore such things as environmental impact both along the roadway and in surrounding areas.

George Ranney, CEO of Metropolis Strategies and co-chair of the advisory council, described the land-use study as critical, saying “obviously, if we don’t have the financing, we’re not going to be able to build this, but if we don’t have a consensus on land use, we’re not going to be able to build it otherwise.”

“The purpose of this additional work is in no way to revisit, or refine or change what we’ve got here,” Ranney said. “Our job is to evaluate what is needed to go forward from a financial point of view and from the point of view of land use.

“(This) is where an awful lot of the tough decisions are going to need to be made. We’re going to need help from the communities and the mayors and their staffs. It’s going to be complicated, and we’re going to take it very seriously.”

Whitley will co-chair the finance committee and said the panel will produce a recommendation by the 2014 deadline.

He echoed past comments by state Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan, that he would like to see a Route 53 extension open for business before he dies.

“I have the same kind of feeling,” Whitley said. “This has been kicked around for way too long, and we want to see things accomplished.”

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