Route 53: Fear and Loathing Part 1


Elected officials in attendance at the October 20th Route 53 Informational Meeting include (L to R) Long Grove Village President Angie Underwood, Lake County Treasurer David Stolman, Lake County Board President Aaron Lawlor, Lake County Board Representative Sid Mathias, and Hawthorn Woods Mayor Joe Mancino.

Last week our Village Board hosted a public meeting to discuss the proposed extension of Route 53. An initiative of Trustees Stan Borys and Mike Sarlitto, this meeting was billed as “neither pro nor con” on the issue, but simply a presentation of facts to better inform our residents. I don’t think anyone walked out of the meeting feeling that it was a neutral discussion. I am on the record as having objected to the last-minute timing and organization of this meeting, and the Village Board as a whole had limited opportunity to vet or approve the materials being presented.

Since last Tuesday, the fallout from the meeting has been significant. County officials who were in attendance to observe (they were specifically asked not to present by Borys and Sarlitto) were treated in an unprofessional manner and have responded with a letter to “correct the false and/or misleading information that was shared in the official presentation.” Chairman Lawlor’s letter will be read tonight at our Village Board meeting and I will reprint it in my next blog entry (Route 53: Fear and Loathing Part 2).

Our communication and working relationships with County officials whom Long Grove is dependent on for critical services such as police and road maintenance (think Diamond Lake Road) are now strained.

My inbox has been filled with impassioned emails from residents opposing the project, many of whom live in the proposed path of the road. A few of these included threats.

Trustees Borys, Sarlitto, and Jacob have as of Friday, forced on to our agenda tonight a vote for our Village to take an official position opposing the Route 53 extension. This short-circuited the normal open process of having two weeks of public awareness in between a Board discussion and a Board vote. This process is in place to ensure consistency, fairness, and transparency. I will write tomorrow on the results of tonight’s meeting, to which we are expecting a large crowd (perhaps brandishing a few pitchforks and flaming torches?)

To better clarify my position on the matter, my opening remarks from the Oct. 20th meeting are reprinted below. Following that is the article that appeared in the Chicago Tribune describing the meeting.

I first learned of the proposed Rt. 53 extension 18 years ago when my husband and I were looking for a home in Long Grove. Over the years this project has surfaced again and again for study and debate, never advancing to fruition due to lack of funds and consensus. I have never been in favor of this project. If it were all up to me, I would preserve our beautiful open spaces and natural areas as they are today, and this road would never be built. However, I am also aware that many residents do support this project. I don’t believe that I was elected to advocate for my personal point of view, but rather to be a representative for ALL Long Grove residents.

Shortly after I took office, I was asked to participate in committees to further study the Route 53/120 Extension. In the past two years, I have attended over 15 of these meetings and I have witnessed firsthand the strong support this project has within both the County and State. At this time, the decision whether or not to advance the Route 53/120 extension rests with the Tollway and our State legislatures. If the road is eventually constructed, it will be dependent on many future decisions of which Long Grove’s active involvement will be crucial, particularly in safeguarding our environmental concerns.

I am ever mindful that what is done and said in the name of Long Grove has and will have consequences, good and bad. My role as Village President is to lead our residents into the years ahead maintaining the best quality of life possible. If that future must include a toll road, then my responsibility is to preserve Long Grove’s seat at the table, and work with other State and County officials to make sure our voice is heard. It is my belief that the best possible outcome for all can be achieved by collaboration and respect.  –Angie Underwood, Long Grove Village President

Audience “gangs up” on County Board Chair during Route 53 Meeting by Ronnie Wachter, Pioneer Press/Chicago Tribune

No new information–but a lot of old emotions–came out of Long Grove’s open-house meeting to discuss the possible extension of Illinois Route 53. Lake County Board President Aaron Lawlor responded to criticism by saying he would not be treated like a “punching bag,” and Long Grove Village President Angie Underwood asked the crowd to stop berating him. Two other members of the Long Grove Village Board spent about 90 minutes on Tuesday skewering aspects of the Illinois Tollway’s plan to extend Route 53 from its current terminus at Lake Cook Road up to Illinois Route 120 in Grayslake. The project would build an entirely new, likely four-lane highway near or through wetlands and neighborhoods. The 12 miles of new pavement, currently estimated to cost about $2.5 billion, would then join a renovated Route 120 in an attempt to ease traffic and spur economic development. In a recently published public-opinion survey that Long Grove Village Hall funded, 53 percent of respondents opposed the project, while 47 percent favored it. Only three members of the Village Board spoke at the session–Stan Borys, Michael Sarlitto, and Underwood. All three identified themselves as against the extension. Underwood said she wanted to keep an open mind to its possibilities, but Sarlitto and Borys spoke frankly about the flaws they see. “If there are any residents here who support this, I dare you to come up here and explain something positive about it,” Sarlitto told the audience of about 200. No one in the standing-room-only audience answered that challenge. At several points, crowd members called for Chairman Lawlor to answer questions, which he stood up and responded. Lawlor challenged nearly everything Sarlitto and Borys put into their presentation. No new information on the project itself came from the gathering. Lawlor said Long Grove invited him on the premise that he would not be asked to make a presentation. “I’m not going to be here, at a meeting that I was explicitly told I wouldn’t be speaking at, just to be a punching bag,” Lawlor told the crowd. Underwood admonished the visitors to respect Lake County’s top elected official. “This is not a meeting for everyone to gang up on Chairman Lawlor,” she said. But Sarlitto said some of Long Grove appears to be misinformed, saying that the 47 percent of survey respondents who want Route 53 needed to know what he knew. “If you had the facts that have been crammed up in this little noggin in the last month, it would be a hell of a lot higher opposition,” Sarlitto said. “Long Grove is Ground Zero for this project,” Sarlitto said. “It starts right here, in this gym.”