The proposed extension of Route 53/120 will bring jobs to Lake County and improve overall transportation movements for residents by alleviating traffic congestion. These improvements will make Lake County more attractive to prospective businesses, which will provide significant economic benefits. Construction of the Route 53/120 extension will actually provide a net benefit to the local economy and improve the quality of life for Lake County residents.
The prospect of extending IL Route 53 into Lake County has been a part of transportation planning in the Chicago region since the 1960s. Route 53 currently stands as a six-mile controlled access highway extension of Interstate 290 between its termination and Lake Cook Road, just south of Lake County. The project is currently proposed as a 12.5-mile extension north to Route 120. In addition, the project will expand and potentially realign portions of Route 120 between Interstate 94 and U.S. Highway 12.
Recent efforts have put the project into the hands of local communities. The recent development of the Blue Ribbon Advisory Council (BRAC) for Route 53/120 and corresponding Finance and Land Use Committees allowed local elected officials and stakeholders to voice their opinions and ultimately guide the project, from both the design and funding perspectives. The successful planning process is exemplified by a February 2017 poll commissioned by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute (ILEPI), which found that 66 percent of Lake County voters support the project, compared to just 18 percent opposed.
Understanding the Need
Added stress to existing roadways will be evident following the expected population and employment growth by 2040.
Furthermore, the following transportation measures indicate strong existing north-south travel movements:
- Interstate 94 experienced daily traffic volumes over 120,000 vehicles in 2014 along the southern portion in Lake County;
- Mean travel times to work in 2014 are highest among communities in west Lake County, reaching above 30 minutes; and
- Over 51 percent of Lake County’s residents work in another county, with 34 percent working directly south in Cook County. Similarly, over 52 percent of Lake County’s employees are travelling from another county, with 26 percent commuting from Cook County.
Route 53/120 has the means to reduce traffic volumes on existing routes and improve travel times. Without some form of transportation improvements, congestion will grow and cause a decline in the quality of life for existing residents.
Economic and Transportation Impacts
The construction of Route 53/120 will create jobs and provide extensive economic and transportation benefits to both Lake County and the Chicago region as a whole.
- New Development: The project will make new land available and more desirable for development; more than 20 million square feet of development is projected to occur along the corridor by 2040.
- Construction Jobs: The construction of the project will add about 5,000 middle-class jobs per year over the four-year construction phase, 3,000 of which will have an average annual income of $73,000.
- Regional Growth: Compared to all fiscally constrained projects identified in CMAP’s GO TO 2040 plan, Route 53/120 will contribute the most to long-term gross regional product at $1.20 billion by 2040.
- Reduced Regional Congestion: Congested vehicle hours traveled (VHT) on the entire roadway network throughout the CMAP region will decrease by over 64,000 hours in the year 2040 due to the construction of the Route 53 extension.
- Reduced Corridor Congestion: In a five-mile buffer surrounding the project location, congested VHT will decrease by about 40,000 hours in 2040.
- Improved Travel Times: Travel times for typical trips near the project location will improve by 18-30 minutes, or 21-31 percent, due to the creation of a new route option in the year 2040.
Funding and the Local Impact
The Finance Committee developed relevant funding measures to address the $2.35 billion to $2.65 billion (in 2020 dollars) cost of the project. Some of which will impact local residents, however the impact is appropriate and reasonable.
- Motor Fuel Tax: An added motor fuel tax of $0.04 per gallon will be levied within Lake County, of which 50 percent will contribute to Route 53/120 and the remaining amount will support other Lake County transportation projects. An average driver will spend an additional $30 per year, or $2.50 a month, to cover the added fuel tax.
- Tolling: A standard toll rate of $0.20 per mile and a congestion rate of $0.29 per mile will be used on the Route 53/120 extension. A sample commuting route between Waukegan and Schaumburg was compared to understand the costs and benefits between using the best existing route and using Route 53/120. It was determined that although there will be an additional annual cost to those using the roadway, the considerable amount of time saved for the common commuter using this route will result in a net benefit of $2,387 annually.
- Real Estate Tax Revenue Capture: Funding for a Sustainable Transportation Fund will be generated by 25 percent of the increase in adjacent, new non-residential land values within one mile of the corridor and two miles of interchanges. The development to support this fund only becomes attractive and viable following the construction of Route 53/120. Consequently, the construction of the project would supply Lake County with property tax revenue that was not previously feasible.
In conclusion, Route 53/120 can offer substantial transportation benefits that far exceed costs to the general public. Following guidance from local participation, the project will address expected growth, improve mobility within Lake County and throughout the region, create middle-class construction jobs, offer the opportunity for new local development, positively impact the region’s economy, and increase the attractiveness of the Chicago region as a location to open or expand businesses.