Fate of Randall Road widening cloudier with County Board committee vote

WOODSTOCK – A McHenry County Board committee voted against allocating funds to buy land for the long-planned Randall Road improvement project, throwing its fate in doubt and setting up for a showdown on the board floor.

The Transportation Committee voted Wednesday morning, 4-2, against allocating an additional $10 million to acquire the needed right-of-way for the $97 million project to widen the busy corridor and improve its intersection with Algonquin Road. The proposal will go before the Finance and Audit Committee on June 23, with an anticipated County Board vote July 5.

An exasperated Algonquin Village President John Schmitt, who addressed the committee before its vote, called the vote "incredibly disappointing." He said a generation of planning and millions spent to date would be wasted because the issue has become a political one. Schmitt, Lake in the Hills Village President Paul Mulcahy and other leaders in recent months have implored the board not to reverse course.

“The engineering is done, everything is in place and it’s just being completely ignored for, you pick the reason, because it has nothing to do with logic,” Schmitt said.

Wednesday’s vote actually was the second vote by the committee against allocating the money. It voted against it in April, and the Finance and Audit Committee, instead of voting on it, sent it back to the Transportation Committee.

County Board Chairman Joe Gottemoller called a Committee of the Whole meeting June 3 to show County Board members presentations showing the need for the project.

The project is planned to be taken down in two phases. The first would widen Randall Road to six lanes from Harnish Drive in Algonquin north to Polaris Drive in Lake in the Hills. That would include improving its intersection with Algonquin Road by adding more turn lanes and eliminating some entry points.

The second phase would widen the road to six lanes from Polaris Drive north to Ackman Road.

While the project has been on the County Board’s list of road improvements since 2002, and feasibility studies began shortly thereafter, a growing faction of board members support scuttling it altogether, questioning the need or the cost versus the benefit of shortening travel times.

The county already has spent $9 million to date, according to McHenry County Division of Transportation figures.

Committee member Jeff Thorsen, R-Crystal Lake, said the COW meeting was disappointing in that it was a presentation to promote the project rather than a free-wheeling exchange of ideas. As a result, he said, he has too many unanswered questions to justify spending an amount that is not 100 percent certain.

“I have more questions than I feel like I have answers for, and we’re talking $110 million, at least with the numbers I’ve heard,” Thorsen said.

Member Nick Provenzano, R-McHenry, said he would like to see other options, and like Thorsen, he left the COW wanting more answers. Of his many concerns is whether having three left turn lanes at the Algonquin Road intersection is workable or safe.

“I just don’t see a $100 million problem. I see a nicely designed $100 million solution, but I don’t see a $100 million problem,” Provenzano said.

Just as county planners during McHenry County’s housing boom years invoked the village of Schaumburg as a fate to be avoided, Randall Road is brought up as a cautionary tale by board members when talk of widening other roads arises.

Discussions of future widening of Route 47 between Huntley and Woodstock, and more recently with a plan to build an interchange at Interstate 90 and Route 23, often are peppered with warnings of not allowing unfettered development and subsequent congestion to turn them into "another Randall Road."

But Randall Road is an economic engine for the county as well as for Algonquin and Lake in the Hills, and a vote to kill the project will hurt the county in the long run, Schmitt said.

McHenry County government receives at least $3.25 million in sales and property taxes from the corridor, which will decrease once businesses fed up with congestion decide to relocate, Schmitt said.

He also said that the federal government, which pledged $10.6 million in air quality funding to defray the cost, may think twice about funding future endeavors should the county change its mind and kill the project.