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You love to see it: Rte. 53 extension proposal gets turned into a greenway project instead

5:53 PM CDT on March 16, 2023

The potential greenway route and existing nearby trails. Image: Steven Vance

We love a happy ending. It previously looked like Illinois Route 53 might be extended north several miles into Lake County, a wasteful highway expansion that would encourage more driving and degrade the environment. Now it's likely that a multi-use trail will be built on the right-of way instead, which would have the opposite effect. The property, purchased by the state over several decades as the county's population grew, is currently owned by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

As reported by the Lake County News-Sun's Gavin Good, on Tuesday the Lake County Board gave its blessing to a plan to turn 1,100 acres, which had been previously earmarked for the road extension, into the off-street trail. The vote demonstrates more local support for the greenway idea, which had already been endorsed by the 20-member Route 53 Land Expansion Alternative Use Task Force, back in December following meetings last year mandated by the Illinois General Assembly. The Lake County Board's approval makes it more likely the project will garner state funding.

Route 53 in Cook County, near the Lake County border. Image: Google Maps
Route 53 in Cook County, near the Lake County border. Image: Google Maps
Route 53 in Cook County, near the Lake County border. Image: Google Maps

The land runs through Long Grove, Hawthorn Woods, Mundelein, and Grayslake near Route 120. The Illinois Tollway cancelled plans for the highway expansion in 2019 as the project lost support after multiple pricey feasibility studies were conducted, and the cost was estimated at billions of dollars.

The next step for the project will be to send the proposal to the General Assembly, which will likely create a working group to look at whether the land should be conserved as a state trail, park or open space, and how how to raise the money for it, according to the News-Sun.

Complicating things a bit is the fact some of the mayors of the relevant villages are interested in using small portions of the right-of-way for other purposes, although most of them support the greenway as well. "I think that will mean some other discussions in the future, but I think it’s important for our board to be supporting this recommendation the task force made," said District 19 member Marah Altenberg, D-Buffalo Grove at the Lake County board meeting. "I also think it’s going to be very important for our legislators in Springfield to help move this along, to help impart how important it is to get this project finished."

While it may be a few years until the greenway project gets off the ground, it's certainly a fantastic outcome that instead of being filled by cars, trucks, and pollution, the corridor will be used by pedestrians, bike riders, and wildlife.

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