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Next up: Toll bridge ahead for  Carpentersville-Algonquin area

The Stearns Road bridge over Fox River  South Elgopened December 2010. | Sun-Times Medifile

The Stearns Road bridge over the Fox River at South Elgin opened in December 2010. | Sun-Times Media file

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Updated: January 19, 2013 6:09AM

CARPENTERSVILLE — Completion of the Stearns Road Bridge and extension in 2010, the Red Gate Road Bridge on Saturday and the Prairie Street Bridge in St. Charles in 1994 have done much to ease the bottlenecks in getting across the Fox River in central Kane County. Now it’s the turn of the north third of the county.

The next major bridge and highway extension project will be the Longmeadow Parkway bridge and extension.

Designed as a “regional” project, extending for miles and likely costing up to $121 million, it will be more like the Stearns project than like the Red Gate one in size and purpose. Like Stearns, it will connect the Randall Road corridor and even areas west of that to state highways far to the east.

But in one way it will be different from any of those previous bridge projects. If plans unfold as the Kane County Board has decided in this age of shrinking state and federal grant largesse, Longmeadow will be a toll bridge. A study has suggested charging $1.50 per vehicle during rush hours, $1 at other times of day.

The bottlenecks

In northern Kane County and southern McHenry County, the main traffic bottlenecks are the bridges carrying Route 72 in the downtown Dundees and Route 62 in downtown Algonquin. Also, Carpentersville’s Main Street Bridge was designed to handle only local traffic but, planners believe, picks up a fair number of long-distance drivers avoiding Route 72.

To ease pressure on those, village and county planners in 1997 suggested a bridge between Carpentersville and Algonquin. It would extend Longmeadow Parkway, which already runs eastward from Randall Road almost as far as Route 31, across the river on a new bridge and then along a new highway corridor about 100 feet north of Bolz Road as far as Route 25.

A later adjustment made two additions: extending Longmeadow westward to Huntley Road, 1,300 feet northwest of where that road intersects Boyer Road, creating a direct route into Huntley; and extending the new east-side highway eastward as far as Route 62, easing access to the bridge from the Barrington area.

With those extensions, the road would be about 5.6 miles long. From west to east, it would intersect with Huntley Road, Randall Road, Route 31, Route 25 and Route 62, plus some smaller roads.

Longmeadow’s cost was estimated several years ago at $121 million, or almost as much as the Stearns project. With federal and state sources then focusing on Stearns and residents having little stomach for a tax increase, in August 2011 the Kane County Board gave a greenlight to proceed on the project as a toll bridge.

Except for the interstates, it would be the first toll bridge in the western suburbs.

A consultant has recommended that to hold down costs, the bridge and road should have only one lane in each direction, but the bridge support structure should be made wide enough for two more lanes to be added if traffic increases.

The tolls would be collected without human toll-takers, by sensing each vehicle’s I-Pass or EZ-Pass, if the vehicle has one, or by photographing the car’s license plates and sending a bill to the vehicle owner.

‘Moving forward’

“We’re moving forward now with Phase One engineering and are acquiring right-of-way,” said Tom Rickert, deputy director of the Kane County Division of Transportation. “We probably have 60 percent of the right-of-way acquired already and we have approximately $5 million in federal funds (out of $9 million originally awarded) remaining for right-of-way acquisition.”

The route has been set in place for so long that when several subdivisions were built in the target area, Kane County and the village of Algonquin required that they set aside a corridor of undeveloped land to someday hold the extended parkway.

But don’t look for a dedication ceremony at Longmeadow any time soon. KDOT Director Carl Schoedel said the construction will be broken up into bite-size pieces as money and land to do each piece become available.

When Longmeadow will be complete “all depends on the funding,” Schoedel said. “If we had the funding today, it would be a four- or five-year process.”

Within a few months, Rickert said, KDOT hopes to begin figuring out in what order those pieces should be done — the “staging” of the project — and to start on more detailed “Phase Two” engineering.

Rickert said one of the first things to be built likely will be the extending of Longmeadow eastward to Route 31 and building an intersection with that route.

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