ALGONQUIN – Lawmakers across party lines emphasized Saturday the long bipartisan effort seldom seen in today’s politics that created the Algonquin Western Bypass, as they dedicated the new two-mile highway weeks before it opens to motorists.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., state representatives, village and county officials all gathered atop the newly-constructed John C. Schmitt Bridge to commemorate a project meant to ease traffic congestion at Routes 31 and 62, and spur economic growth in downtown Algonquin.
The $88 million project decades in the making could not have happened without the work of Republicans and Democrats at all levels coming together to find the resources to construct the bypass, Durbin told a crowd of about 100 area dignitaries and business owners.
“Standing here today is a reaffirmation of the basics,” Durbin said. “When we get together as Illinoisans and Americans, there’s nothing we can’t do, even a 60-year-old dream like the Algonquin bypass.”
Durbin thanked former U.S. Rep. Dan Manzullo, a longtime area Republican who included an initial $9 million earmark for the project in a 1998 federal transportation bill.
He recounted working with then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama to secure $10 million more in federal funding for the bypass in 2010. The two earmarks combined represented one-fourth of the construction costs, Durbin said.
Congressional earmarks were banned after Republicans regained control of the House in 2010. Durbin reiterated his past criticisms of the prohibition, saying he wanted to return to the era of earmarks when lawmakers on both sides could deliver meaningful projects for their constituents.
The majority of the $33.3 million construction bid to build the bypass came from the 2009 statewide capital plan that both state Rep. Mike Tryon, R-Crystal Lake, and state Sen. Pam Althoff, R-McHenry, helped pass.
Both spoke Saturday on the many individuals at the local, state and federal levels that worked for decades to plan, engineer and build the four-lane divided highway that allows area motorists to bypass traffic at Routes 31 and 62.
“We are truly a shining example of what can be done when people collaborate and don’t worry about who gets the credit,” Althoff said.
State transportation officials said the new highway should be open to motorists by mid-August.
The bypass also includes a diamond interchange, retaining walls and sound barriers west of downtown Algonquin, along with four new bridges.
Two bridges are named after Village President John Schmitt, who led the dedication ceremony, and former county board member Bill Dwyer, a longtime advocate for the project who died in 2011.
Tryon, who first was involved in the project in 1998, said he never thought he would drive the bypass since it took so long to see construction, which began in spring 2012.
“It’s a long time coming,” Tryon said. “It’s going to make life easier. A trip through Algonquin won’t be about trying to figure out how to get around it.”
Calling Saturday an incredible day, Schmitt noted that local and county officials started discussing the bypass idea when “Elvis [Presley] was skinny and so was I.”
The comment drew a laugh from the crowd, but the village president later spoke sincerely as he thanked the countless individuals that made the long-awaited project a reality.
“It’s easy to say no,” Schmitt said. “It’s easy to say, ‘We will never get it done.’ But you need to struggle through the obstacles and never give up.”