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updated: 7/2/2019 3:41 PM

Is Lake County Board rethinking support for Route 53 extension?

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After years of campaigning that resulted in no real action, the Lake County Board is softening its support for a northward extension of Route 53.

Revisions proposed for the board's strategic plan call for the panel to "evaluate and consider alternatives" to the long-stalled Route 53 extension.

Likewise, the proposed document endorses the development of transportation options that reduce air pollution and protect open space -- goals that would be countered if Route 53 is extended north from Lake-Cook Road on what for the most part is undeveloped land.

The board could approve the updated strategic plan Tuesday, July 9.

Gurnee-area Republican Steve Carlson, one of the board's most vocal critics of extending Route 53, concurs with the change in language -- and vision.

"I believe the board will now, finally, move on to develop a more realistic alternative that takes transit, bike and pedestrian paths, transportation-oriented development as well as the environment into consideration," Carlson said.

But not all board members have abandoned the Route 53 extension, which experts have said could cost more than $2 billion.

Lake Zurich Republican Craig Taylor supports extending the highway -- if it can be done without damaging nearby wetlands.

"We have to be respectful of the environment," Taylor said.

The county board updates its strategic plan every two years. The document sets goals for infrastructure, public safety, the local economy, the environment and other aspects of life in the region.

The 2017 plan said the board should continue working with state and regional agencies to implement a Route 53 extension or unspecified alternatives.

Various plans to extend Route 53 into Lake County have been in the works for decades. The most recent version included simultaneous improvements to Route 120, a major east-west road through the center of the county.

In 2018, the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority rebranded the proposal as the Tri-County Access Project, with parts of McHenry and Cook counties added to the study area.

The agency also launched an extensive study of the possible environmental impacts of a Route 53 extension and other options. Results are expected in 2021 or 2022.

The county board's proposed strategic plan for 2019-21 says the board should "monitor and utilize" the anticipated results of that study. It also removes any specific support for a Route 53 extension.

County board member Jessica Vealitzek, a Hawthorn Woods Democrat, said promoting a single project seemed "out of place" with the strategic plan's broad view.

Reducing traffic congestion will require many types of projects, she said, including better mass-transit options and adding lanes to existing roads.

"I support a more comprehensive transportation vision," Vealitzek said.

Buffalo Grove Democrat Adam Didech doesn't just oppose Route 53's inclusion in the revised strategic plan -- he opposes the project entirely.

"It's too much money for not enough benefit, (and it's) environmentally unsound," he said.

Taylor wants to review the environmental study. Although he supports extending the highway, he said he supports reducing pollution and protecting open space, and he doesn't want to haphazardly bulldoze the green space where a Route 53 extension could be built.

"I'm not a fanatic," he said.

Lake Forest Republican Mike Rummel doesn't think Route 53's exclusion from the strategic plan means board support for the project is waning.

Like Taylor, he said he backs a highway extension if it can be done "in an environmentally sensitive way."

The board is set to meet at 9 a.m. Tuesday, July 9, at the county government center, 18 N. County St., Waukegan. The meeting is open to the public and also will be streamed live at