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updated: 2/24/2020 4:50 PM

With Route 53 extension dropped, what happens to $54 million in land?

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  • The Route 53 extension is on ice but what about the $54 million worth of land IDOT bought? Part of the 1,100 acres owned by the state is shown east of Heron Creek Forest Preserve in Lake Zurich.

    The Route 53 extension is on ice but what about the $54 million worth of land IDOT bought? Part of the 1,100 acres owned by the state is shown east of Heron Creek Forest Preserve in Lake Zurich.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • With the long proposed Route 53 extension now defunct, the state needs to decide what to do about the $54 million worth of land IDOT bought for the project. Part of the 1,100 acres owned by the state is shown east of Heron Creek Forest Preserve in Lake Zurich.

    With the long proposed Route 53 extension now defunct, the state needs to decide what to do about the $54 million worth of land IDOT bought for the project. Part of the 1,100 acres owned by the state is shown east of Heron Creek Forest Preserve in Lake Zurich.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 

Quashing the proposed extension of Route 53 north into Lake County may have been the easy part.

Residents who waged war against the pricey expansion rejoiced when the Illinois tollway dropped the project last July, effectively dooming it for lack of funds.

Now, however, there's a 1,100-acre hot potato squatting in Lake County. The state spent $54.3 million over 48 years acquiring land for the defunct road.

What to do? Looks like it's task force time.

Legislation is percolating through the General Assembly to create a task force authorized to recommend uses for the land by Dec. 31.

Sponsor state Sen. Dan McConchie is hopeful a coalition of mayors, state officials and advocacy groups "can resolve this issue once and for all."

"Until people study the whole breadth of options, this corridor will continue to languish," said McConchie, a Republican who lives in Hawthorn Woods, a town that had been smack-dab in the middle of the project.

There's no shortage of ideas for the IDOT properties dotted across central Lake County -- soccer fields, business parks, nature preserves, office space, and bike paths, for example, in towns including Long Grove, Hawthorn Woods, Mundelein and Grayslake.

But "if you're running IDOT and you have a $54 million asset, are you going to give it away?" Lake County Board member/Forest Preserve Commissioner Steve Carlson asked rhetorically. "Let's get real."

The mechanics of how Gov. J.B. Pritzker, IDOT leaders and the General Assembly intend to dispose of the land have not been fleshed out yet.

But even if "a big chunk of land drops into our laps for free, it still entails a lot of costs to maintain it," Carlson said.

And, if vacant parcels are converted to nature preserves instead of commercial space, people should be aware that means never recouping property taxes, Grayslake Mayor Rhett Taylor said. "All these things are important to vet and the discussion needs to be transparent," he said.

Along with preserving open space, there are nuances like connecting the various land parcels and flood protection, Midwest Sustainability Group Executive Director Barbara Klipp said.

"In the end, it has to be a balanced approach," Klipp stressed.

The task force resolution passed unanimously at a Senate Transportation Committee last week.

"If Route 53 really is dead, we need everyone at the table to determine what's best," said Democratic state Sen. Melinda Bush of Grayslake, who signed on as a co-sponsor.

IDOT is reviewing the legislation and does not have a position at this time, spokesman Guy Tridgell said, adding that the agency is "committed to working with local stakeholders" to determine the best and most effective use of the land.

In general, the department can dispose of property via a public sale, like an auction, after declaring it excess. That hasn't happened with the Route 53 land yet.

A direct sale to a specific entity also can occur, but must have legislative and governor approval in advance, Tridgell noted.

Got an opinion on the future of the 1,100 acres? Drop an email to mpyke@dailyherald.com.

One more thing

Proposed task force members include mayors of Grayslake, Hawthorn Woods, Long Grove and Mundelein; IDOT and Illinois Department of Natural Resources officials; state lawmakers appointed by party leaders; Lake County Board and Stormwater Management Commission representatives; and stakeholders from environmental, sustainability and tourism groups.

Members, who aren't paid for their service, will pick a chairman from among the lawmakers, Joint Resolution 52 states.

You should know

The federal deadline for travelers to obtain REAL ID is nearly seven months away. Without a REAL ID driver's license that's marked with a gold star, you can't board domestic flights in the U.S. effective Oct. 1, unless you have a passport or military identification.

Illinois Secretary of State officials advise applicants to allow 15 days for processing. "The most common issue customers face is not bringing in all of the required documents," spokesman Henry Haupt said. An interactive document checklist is available on realid.ilsos.gov. Another tip -- if you're bringing in a birth certificate as identification, be sure it's certified. Applicants can click on the "Resources" tab at the bottom of the website and click on "Apply for a Certified Copy of Birth Certificate," Haupt added.

What 'mechanical failure'?

Metra hopes to decipher service disruptions for riders with a primer on its website and videos. The effort explains technical terms like "pedestrian interference," which means delays of up to three hours; "freight train disruption," delays of up to 30 minutes; and other mysteries. To learn more, go to metrarail.com.

One more thing

Nice to see some federal tax contributions come home. The Federal Aviation Administration just announced O'Hare International Airport will receive $65 million for runway construction. It couldn't come any sooner with O'Hare's second longest Runway 9-Center/27-Center, stretching 11,245 feet, set to open Nov. 5.