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Long Grove mayor softens stance on Route 53 extension
By Russell Lissau | Daily Herald Staff

Maria Rodriguez.

 

John Dawson,

 

Dirk Beveridge

 

Joe Walsh

 

Greg Jacobs

 

Chris Geissler

 

 1 of 6 
 
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Published: 12/19/2009 12:00 AM | Updated: 1/18/2010 8:15 PM

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Long recognized as a staunch opponent of extending Route 53 into Lake County, Long Grove village president and Republican congressional candidate Maria Rodriguez has softened her stance on the issue.

"I think we need to explore some north-south extension," Rodriguez told the Daily Herald this week.

Rodriguez - one of six Republicans running for the seat held by Democrat Melissa Bean - said she doesn't believe a six-lane highway or tollway is the right option. However, she'd support an arterial highway with limited access, similar to Palatine Road in Cook County or what's proposed for Route 120 in Lake County.

"Does it make sense to do a north-south version of Palatine Road?" Rodriguez said. "Yes, I would go for that."

Publicly acknowledging a Route 53 plan of any kind is worth considering is a change for Rodriguez, Long Grove's leader since 2005.

In May 2008, Rodriguez said she and other Long Grove leaders were "adamantly opposed" to extending Route 53. Earlier this year, Rodriguez said transportation money should first be sent to improve existing roads.

When asked about the apparent change of heart, Rodriguez said her priorities as mayor are different from those she'd have as a congresswoman.

"As the village president of Long Grove, I have to represent Long Grove," she said. "As a congresswoman, I would have to represent the 8th District."

Some of the other GOP candidates in the 8th District race were surprised by Rodriguez's comments and suspicious of her motives.

"I think it's important for Maria to be able to explain why she was adamantly against Route 53 for years and now that she's running for Congress has decided to soften her stance," candidate Dirk Beveridge of Barrington said.

Fellow GOP hopeful Chris Geissler accused Rodriguez of flip-flopping on the issue.

"While I cannot try to interpret Mrs. Rodriguez's motivations, it's all the more suspect simply because she's seeking the Republican nomination," he said.

Rodriguez rebuffed the criticisms and said she's been talking to local politicians and environmentalists about Route 53 options for more than a year.

"I'm not wishy-washy on this," she said. "I am willing to look at what we need to do. But we need to be realistic about it, too."

In addition to Rodriguez, Beveridge and Geissler, the Feb. 2 GOP primary for the 8th District seat will feature Greg Jacobs of Mundelein, John Dawson of Barrington and Joe Walsh of Winnetka.

Bean, of Barrington, is seeking re-election. Bill Scheurer of Lindenhurst is running as a Green Party candidate.

The 8th District includes parts of Cook, Lake and McHenry counties.

In a nonbinding referendum earlier this year, Lake County voters overwhelmingly backed the Route 53 extension plan, which some experts said could cost more than $1 billion.

Transportation was one of the topics covered by a recent Daily Herald questionnaire. All of the Republicans except Rodriguez strongly supported the Route 53 plan.

"The people of the 8th District want to get from Point A to Point B without major hassle," Jacobs said. "Extending Route 53 would (do that)."

Walsh said federal leadership is needed to extend the highway northward. He thinks officials should consider stretching it to the Wisconsin border.

"This project has been on the drawing board for over 40 years, and government inaction has saddled residents of Lake and McHenry counties with some of the longest commute times in the nation," Walsh said. "This is one area where federal dollars should be spent."

Rodriguez's answer was not as decisive. She said a Route 53 project is "at least 12 years away" once planning and construction are figured in.

"We need relief sooner than that," she wrote.

But she also wrote that officials "need to explore all options to alleviate the gridlock traffic congestion that plagues the 8th District of Illinois." And the most publicized of these options, she said, is the northern extension of Route 53.

In this week's follow-up interview, Rodriguez said district residents wouldn't be well-served waiting more than a decade for a highway to be built.

A smaller-scale project resembling Palatine Road could benefit the region, Rodriguez said.

"And I've been saying that," she said.

That's news to some GOP candidates.

"We've been campaigning for two months now, and that's the first I've heard of this," Walsh said.

Dawson said he has heard Rodriguez talk about such a proposal, but he didn't recall if it was at a forum or in a private conversation.