Access project may trigger commercial growth in McHenry County

By Gregory Harutunian For Chronicle Media

The widening of Route 23 in Marengo took place last summer, as an intitial ugrade to the proposed interchange sector. (Photo by Gregory Harutunian/for Chronicle Media)

The concept of Route 53 was first proposed in the early 1960s, with the intended path carrying a federal right-of-way designation and marked by signage through farm fields in the Lake Zurich-Hawthorn Woods region.

Starting at Buffalo Grove in Cook County, the roadway was to proceed north to the Volo-Lakemoor area. At present, the state of Illinois has acquired approximately 66 percent of the easement properties necessary for the corridor.

The Illinois Tollway Authority sanctioned an environmental impact study for the Route 53 extension in December 2015, although the project has now been expanded to include McHenry County. The ITA re-christened the effort as the Tri-County Access Project in July. Lake County government officials saw the project as a model of the future providing an alternative to existing congestion problems, as well as economic engine for commercial growth.

The addition of McHenry County prompted three representatives to attend a March 21 stakeholders’ participation group meeting: McHenry County Division of Transportation director Joseph Korpalski, the county board’s Transportation Committee chairman Joseph Gottemoller, and the MCDOT’s principal transportation coordinator, Scott Hennings.

An open house, held at the Marengo City Hall, last Aug. 22, allowed the public to view plans for the Route 23/I-90 Interchange. (Photo by Gregory Harutunian/for Chronicle Media)

“As for the rationale of including McHenry County, all I can say is that any transit in and out of the county is an important issue for us,” said Hennings. “The March 21 meeting was largely an introductory session with people meeting each other, and options being discussed. Nothing is off the table, and we’ll know more, after the April 24 meeting.

“One of the issues is do they use what’s already been completed in the way of studies, and planning discussions … or go in a completely new direction and start from scratch.”

The Tri-County Access Project would supply a major access point on the county’s eastern boundary, and a vital link for the transportation of goods and services to outside commercial centers. The only other major county access is the route 23/I-90 Interchange, also an ITA construction project, which broke ground two years ago. The $36 million interchange also employs three roundabouts positioned to keep traffic flow patterns moving freely.

During the public viewing, Marengo city manager Josh Blakemore said that the city’s revenues had been basically stagnant, and the project was significant in being the only county tollway access. It was also a gateway to developing jobs with light industry introduced in that sector, with a truck stop fueling station, and a restaurant to surround the new exit. Beginning in 2013, properties along Route 23 in Marengo toward the interchange site were methodically annexed into the municipal boundaries, creating a jagged, but contiguous line, and a tax base.

n overhead map of the Route 23/I-90 interchange, when completed in 2023. (Photo by Gregory Harutunian/for Chronicle Media)

At the eastern point, covered by the Tri-County Access Project at routes 12 and 120, the Village of Lakemoor is poised for tax benefits from commercial growth with the Woodman’s Foods retail center. The 240,000-square-foot store is moving forward with its planned construction, along with brining 200 jobs to the area. Stormwater, and other piping, infrastructure has already been installed at the site.

“We’re very excited at the prospect of being the transportation gateway for the county,” said Lakemoor Mayor Todd Wiehofen. “The Woodman’s retail center was done in anticipation of the traffic at the intersection, not because of it. The village is investing more than $7 million in the intersection’s roadways, at our cost … you know we’re looking forward to actually getting shovels in the ground.” 

The April 24 stakeholders’ meeting is to refine some options and open further discussions on the Tri-County Access.

“We’ve had a positive response, and while people have different views on the best answer, they appreciate the discussion of how we can improve the quality of life in all of our communities,” said Daniel Rozek, senior manager for communications at the Illinois Tollway Authority, which is overseeing the project.

“Ultimately, the project will result in the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement, which is expected to be completed in 2021.”


Access project may trigger commercial growth in McHenry County–