MARENGO – An interchange at Interstate 90 and Route 23 officially has been added to the county’s transportation project to-do list.
While the addition was symbolic in a way, given that the McHenry County Board last month paid more than $289,000 in motor-fuel tax toward startup design costs, its inclusion on the county’s latest Five-Year Transportation Program marks it as a top priority for county leaders who long have sought having a full interchange with I-90 within the county’s borders.
The project, pegged in the plan at $50.2 million, was added to the overall plan, which is annually updated by the McHenry County Division of Transportation, and that board members approved earlier this week on a 16-6 vote. Because the Illinois Toll Highway Authority plans to replace the Route 23 overpass in 2017 as part of its I-90 widening plan, the city, county and state have been working together to see whether the full interchange can be built as well.
Marengo’s vision for the interchange is not a retail or residential corridor – “not another Randall Road” as City Administrator Gary Boden put it – but an industrial center that’s 45 minutes away down from O’Hare and Rockford airports, and close to numerous major rail hubs.
“Our community is not looking to become another retail center. … Our location is a little different,” Boden said. “Our future is all about industrial expansion and job creation.”
Boden, like County Board Chairman Joe Gottemoller and other supporters of a full interchange, said it will spark needed economic development and job growth for McHenry County, taking advantage of the I-90 corridor. None of McHenry County’s connections with I-90 actually lie within the county – the full interchange completed in 2013 at Route 47 in Huntley is in Kane County, as are I-90’s interchanges with Randall Road and Route 31.
County leaders frequently have alleged that McHenry County is the largest county by population in the U.S. that does not have direct access to an interstate highway.
According to the cost estimates in the five-year-plan, the toll authority would cover half of the $50 million construction cost, with the county paying $15 million, and $5 million each coming from the state and from Marengo or other local sources.
But opponents aren’t so sure the idea is a good one.
A minority on the County Board, already wary of large-scale road projects in the wake of opposition to widening Randall Road, question whether this project will deliver the results its supporters say it will. Board member Michael Rein, R-Woodstock, spoke out before Tuesday’s vote, saying there are too many unknowns about the benefits and that the price quoted in the five-year plan seems low to him. He has expressed concerns in the past that state funding is not a sure thing given the state’s dire fiscal predicament and Gov. Bruce Rauner putting the brakes on other transportation projects.
Board member Andrew Gasser, who unsuccessfully tried to have the project removed from the five-year plan, said that county transportation funding is better spent on other needs that serve more people, such as Routes 31 and 47. He also pointed out the government of Riley Township, in which the proposed interchange is located, opposes the project because of its distance from infrastructure and the fact that the area is prone to flooding.
“The people of Riley [Township] don’t want it, the people who live close to it don’t want it.” said Gasser, R-Fox River Grove. “There are other places we can spend those transportation dollars.”
The $289,608 the County Board paid toward the project was to reimburse the City of Marengo for startup design costs. Marengo also has annexed land in an effort to extend city limits to I-90.
Plans call for the completion of first-phase engineering by the end of the year, according to HR Green, the McHenry engineering firm undertaking the project.