WOODSTOCK – The McHenry County Board approved up to $15.9 million for the design phase of the Randall Road widening project, over the objections of opponents who allege the fix is in for a controversial continuous-flow intersection opposed by Lake in the Hills.
In three separate votes early Tuesday afternoon, the County Board granted a $9.1 million contract to TranSystems to design the project, a $1.75 million contract to Mathewson Right of Way Co. to obtain the needed land and $5 million with which to buy it. The funds mostly come from the county and state motor fuel tax, with some coming from the sales tax paid to fund the Regional Transportation Authority.
The votes came after a presentation by the McHenry County Division of Transportation and almost 90 minutes of sometimes contentious debate about the scope of the project, and the “elephant in the room” of the continuous-flow intersection, as Algonquin Village President John Schmitt called it.
The project, which the DOT’s latest five-year highway improvement plan prices at $115 million, will widen a 3.5-mile stretch of the congested shopping corridor to six lanes from its start at Ackman Road south to the Kane County line, and add dual left-turn lanes and exclusive right-turn lanes at major signal intersections.
A controversial option would turn Randall Road at Algonquin Road into a continuous-flow intersection, requiring two more sets of lights to start left-turning vehicles several hundred feet before the main intersection.
Schmitt before the debate implored board members not to let the undecided status of the continuous-flow intersection hold up what he called much-needed capacity improvements. He said that business owners have told him they will consider moving over the next decade if the congestion problem is not solved.
“Please allow the process to continue ... we need Randall Road to continue to function,” Schmitt said.
Seven County Board members voted against all three resolutions. Opposition was led by the five-member bloc that traditionally votes against large spending packages: Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake, Michael Walkup, R-Crystal Lake, John Hammerand, R-Wonder Lake, Ersel Schuster, R-Woodstock, and Diane Evertsen, R-Harvard. They were joined by members Yvonne Barnes, R-Cary, and Michele Aavang, R-Woodstock.
Kurtz and Barnes said they suspect the continuous-flow intersection, despite being officially undecided, is a foregone conclusion the way the contracts are written. Lake in the Hills, which is on the north side of the intersection, opposes the idea, alleging that a continuous-flow intersection will strangle its businesses on the Randall Road corridor, which accounts for at least 75 percent of its sales tax revenue. Algonquin, on the south side, has not taken a position, although its trustees are publicly split on the concept.
While the decision on whether to go with a continuous-flow intersection is not final, it was announced in November that $10.6 million in federal funding, or about 80 percent of the cost, has been pledged if a continuous-flow intersection is built.
“Nobody can show me anywhere in the contract that the other plans will be developed and pursued,” Barnes said.
Kurtz also took aim at $1.1 million set aside in the design contract for public outreach and made an unsuccessful attempt to have it removed. She called the expense unnecessary in a world of Internet and social media and said she suspected it will be used to push for a continuous-flow intersection and “undermine the municipalities.”
But board members who eventually won the day Tuesday, like Transportation Committee Chairwoman Anna May Miller, R-Cary, echoed Schmitt’s plea to move the entire project forward and not get hung up on the proposed continuous-flow intersection.
“It’s a regional problem. It’s not just Lake in the Hills, it’s not just Algonquin,” Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake, said.
Ersel Schuster, R-Woodstock, opposed the project on the more general principle of having to spend taxpayer money to improve a road that county and municipal governments lined with sprawl and curb cuts.
“It’s a textbook history of how not to build a community and how not to build a road,” Schuster said.
Schuster also took a shot at the campaign contributions that the two companies receiving bids have doled out over the years to County Board members.
Schaumburg-based TranSystems since 2010 has contributed $750 to the campaign coffers of Miller and her husband, Algonquin Township Highway Commissioner Robert Miller, and since 2007 has donated $2,050 to the campaigns of member and former board chairman Ken Koehler, R-Crystal Lake, according to Illinois State Board of Elections records.
Chicago-based Mathewson has been more generous. Since 2007, it has contributed $8,550 to Koehler, and since 2010 has given $2,000 to the Millers’ campaign chest. In 2013, it also donated $250 each to Gottemoller and County Board Chairwoman Tina Hill, R-Woodstock, and $500 to board member and county clerk candidate Nick Provenzano.
Koehler abstained from the Mathewson contract vote because his son, Kris, works for the company.
How they voted
The McHenry County Board voted Tuesday afternoon to spend up to $15.9 million to design the Randall Road widening project and set aside the funds to buy the needed land.
In three votes, board members approved a $9.1 million design contract, a $1.75 million right-of-way contract and $5 million to fund the land purchases.
Voting no all three times were members Diane Evertsen, R-Harvard, John Hammerand, R-Wonder Lake, Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake, Ersel Schuster, R-Woodstock, Michael Walkup, R-Crystal Lake, Michele Aavang, R-Woodstock, and Yvonne Barnes, R-Cary.
Ken Koehler, R-Crystal Lake, abstained from voting on the right-of-way contract because his son works for the company. Mary McClellan, R-Holiday Hills, who attended the meeting by telephone, only voted for the design contract and missed the two subsequent votes.
Absent Tuesday were James Heisler, R-Crystal Lake, Sandra Fay Salgado, R-McHenry, and Sue Draffkorn, R-Wonder Lake.