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Kurtz: Why fixing Randall/Algonquin intersection matters

Most will agree that the Randall and Algonquin Roads intersection and surrounding area is a significant congestion problem for McHenry County. Traffic backups are common, and many complain about traffic safety concerns. In fact, in 2010 this intersection gained the dubious distinction from the Chicago Sun-Times as one of the “20 Most Dangerous Intersections” in the Chicago area, and in 2015 this intersection area was the site of 286 accidents.

However, many elected officials, such as myself, as well as members of the public were reluctant to support the initial proposals to “fix Randall Road” because designs such as a continuous flow interchange (CFI), and the miles of Randall Road widening seemed to be overkill and far more expensive (upwards of $120 million) than what was needed to fix this problematic situation. However, the McHenry County Division of Transportation (MCDOT) has addressed these concerns and as a result, these initial expansive plans have been vastly scaled back.

Background

At the July 5, 2016, meeting, the County Board secured a majority vote to address the Randall Road/Algonquin Road intersection area problems. The new plan, supported by a majority of County Board members, is substantially scaled down in terms of both scope and price tag from the initial proposal. Rather than take on the enormous expense of expanding and widening all of Randall Road, as well as introducing expensive infrastructure such as a CFI, this project is roughly half the cost and will only focus on addressing the Randall Road and Algonquin Road intersection area that extends to Harnish Drive to the south, and Acorn Lane/Polaris Drive to the north. The substantial reduction in cost and construction time were key reasons for my support of this project, as opposed to the initial project, which was arguably over-engineered and extremely costly relative to the problems that needed to be fixed.

Bottleneck metrics

The Randall and Algonquin Road intersection area has become a central crossroad for regional traffic. Therefore, it is not surprising that three different traffic volume counts provided by IDOT and MCDOT between 2013 through 2016 show average traffic volumes of between 68,000 and 85,000 vehicles travelling through this intersection daily. In addition, all of these studies show a trend increase in the traffic volume since 2009.

These traffic numbers also indicate that this intersection not only has the highest traffic in McHenry County, but also has one of the highest traffic levels in the region. Specifically, IDOT traffic studies for the Barrington Road / Higgins intersection show average daily traffic (ADT) of 62,200, the Roselle/Golf intersection with an ADT of 71,000, and Roselle/Higgins intersection with an ADT of just under 63,000. However, in spite of the sizeable traffic pouring through the Randall Road and Algonquin Road intersection area on a daily basis, basic operational functions such as a sufficient number of through lanes, left-turn lanes, and right-turn lanes are lacking, while the other intersections mentioned above do have this level of operational functionality.

Project cost and funding

MCDOT has established the total costs for making necessary operational improvements at $65.7 million, which according to MCDOT is in line with industry standards for this type of project. Specifically, the total number of miles involved are 1.5 miles on Randall Road, and .7 miles on Algonquin Road. Total number of lane miles to be constructed is 20.9 miles. Given lane-mile construction cost can vary from $2 million to $6 million, according to the Federal Highway Administration, the construction costs per lane mile for this project is attractively priced at $1.8 million per lane mile.

Remaining costs for the project are allocated to right-of-way land acquisition and engineering. Because the project design incorporates triple left-turn lanes from Algonquin Road onto Randall Road for future capacity, a considerable $10.6 million in federal funds will reduce the project cost for McHenry County taxpayers to $55.1 million. Given the approximately $9 million spent to date, the remaining cost for project completion stands at about $45 million.

Going forward, these remaining costs will be funded through motor fuel taxes and other transportation-based taxes. Therefore, no increases in property taxes will occur to fund this construction. On the other hand, if we do nothing to fix this area, the county will lose almost $20 million in federal funding, as well as money spent to date.

Regional transportation

Because traffic does not effectively move through this intersection today, travelers experience extended travel time delays that cause frustration, unnecessary pollution, and safety issues. These elements create an undesirable quality of life, impacting the attractiveness and property values of our surrounding neighborhoods and towns. However, providing more effective traffic flow allows the county to better manage its overall transportation network. This will result in fewer accidents, reduced travel time, and less fuel consumption and pollution, thus, providing $3.5 dollars of value for every $1 invested in this project.

Investing in transportation infrastructure at the crossroads of Lake in the Hills/Algonquin, and with Huntley and Crystal Lake right down the road, we are taking the steps necessary to further strengthen the business areas surrounding Randall Road.

By reducing travel times, studies indicate that retail market reach and consumer spending potential will also increase. By increasing traffic capacity, we increase the desirability for businesses to relocate here because of the improved access for employees to travel to work.

Ultimately, strengthening our tax base by providing a safe, effective transportation infrastructure that our residents expect, businesses require, and employers and commuters demand positions McHenry County to strengthen its economic base. In turn. this is critical to revitalize taxpayer relief.

Summary

The county’s intent in addressing the operational deficiencies at the Randall Road/Algonquin Road intersection is to ensure we have the throughput to handle traffic over the next 30 years. But make no mistake about it, the traffic levels at this intersection relative to comparable intersections indicate a serious bottleneck that must be addressed now.

As a county, we must recognize that this is no longer just a busy area with highly travelled intersections; rather, these sections of roads have become a critical foundation to support our regional transportation needs. Additionally, the impact of these improvements are anticipated to generate substantial added business and economic value to McHenry County.

In conclusion, addressing the challenges of the current Randall and Algonquin roads intersection area will position both businesses and residents alike to benefit from greater transportation capacity, which will create additional financial and quality-of-life benefits for McHenry County residents in the years ahead.

• Donna Kurtz is a three-term McHenry County Board member representing Crystal Lake, Lake in the Hills, Cary, and Lakewood.

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