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Lake Co. roadwork could be on fast track
By Mick Zawislak | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 1/22/2008 12:10 AM

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After years of weathering complaints about traffic congestion, Lake County transportation officials finally may be able to hit the gas on road repairs and improvements.

The transit bailout package approved last week by state lawmakers will provide enough new money to allow them to greatly expand the normal budget for road projects.

"Our best guess at this point is about $28 million to the county every year," said Marty Buehler, director of transportation. "Our program base is about $22 million per year for capital (projects) so it's about double."

In addition to a quarter percent sales tax increase for mass transit, DuPage, Lake, McHenry, Kane and Will counties will receive an additional quarter percent to be used specifically for transportation projects or public safety.

In Lake County, that will mean roads.

"I can' t tell you how much I look forward to getting projects off the 'want' list and on the 'bid' list," said County Board Chairwoman Suzi Schmidt.

"The public believes it's never going to happen," she said. "I think they'll be thrilled to see projects are actually getting done."

The protracted and contentious state legislation authorizes cash from the same source that Lake County voters twice rejected. County leaders had sought sales tax increases for road projects in 2004 and 2005.

"What we would intend to do is create a transportation action plan for this new money," Buehler said.

The county operates on a five-year plan, which is updated and adjusted every year. Last year, the plan was extended to six years because of deficits caused by increases in construction costs and the uncertainty of state and federal funds, which are used as matches for some projects.

With state expenditures for road projects a perennial wild card, Lake County leaders decided that a unified front would be the best way to get to the front of the line for whatever became available.

In two transportation summits, Lake County's delegation of state representatives and senators united to back a priority list of projects.

Among those, for example, were engineering for Route 173 from the Lake/McHenry county line to Route 83 and Route 83 to Interstate 94; design for a Milburn bypass on Route 45; and widening of Milwaukee Avenue from Route 120 to Route 137.

While counties will receive an infusion of cash, the Illinois Department of Transportation will not. Many of Lake County's needs involve improvements on state roads, but to what, if any, extent those will be accommodated is uncertain.

A state capital program to provide new funds for roads and schools remains an unresolved issue for lawmakers.

Having a consensus road priority list gives Lake County a leg up for available IDOT funds, says state Rep. Kathy Ryg of Vernon Hills, who is a member of the House mass transit committee.

"Fortunately for us, we have that list developed," she said. "We have an agenda ready to go."