That committee, made up of five Belvidere city aldermen and five Boone County Board members, took two different actions July 11 to recommend committing $114,800 toward the $50-million project.
One step is for preliminary engineering at an initial cost of $81,000. The other step, costing $33,800, is for services of a right of way consultant. The city and county will be splitting that expense, with the county dollars coming out of its highway fund.
Once that portion of the engineering is done the city and county could find themselves with a much larger expense: buying land needed to finish the remaining three lanes of the project. A high-ranking Illinois Department of Transportation official told the committee that if the city and county provided the land, the state would finish the interchange.
“It’s our bridge – unless you want to take it over,” Rocco Zucchero, deputy chief of engineering for Illinois Tollway, said after committee member Pat Mattison asked who would complete the project later on, should the three remaining lanes not be built now.
He also told the committee the right of way would have to be obtained by April 2013, for the work to go forward in concert with the 62-mile resurfacing of I-90 from Chicago to Rockford.
The portion of work from Elgin north to Rockford is targeted for 2013-14.
Zucchero said the first lane at Irene and I-90 was built in 2008. Illinois Tollway had an intergovernmental agreement with Boone County at that time, he said, which stated: “You provide the land and we’ll build the interchange for you. Now there is that opportunity again.”
The county and Belvidere have been unsuccessful twice in landing federal grants to help pay for the project.
While finding those millions of dollars remains in limbo, Mattison was more concerned with locating the money to buy the needed right of way. He turned to Steve Ernest, executive director of the Rockford Metropolitan Agency on Planning, to see if that organization could help with that expense.
Ernest, who was asked to attend the committee meeting, said RMAP gets $2 ½-to-$3 million a year for road projects in the region. “That’s a possibility, as a grant or a loan,” he told Mattison of helping the city-county effort.
“I think we’re going to get to that point real quick,” Mattison said of the need for that money.
Boone County benefit?
Committee member Laura Guerin-Hunt said she and others were concerned about what benefit Boone County would realize from completing the interchange.
Zucchero said he had seen economic development benefits at new interchanges in Aurora and at Interstate 294 and Balmoral in Rosemont. “We’ve seen that in the last four years,” he said.
But Mark Williams, executive director of Growth Dimensions, said spending a lot of money to finish the Irene Road interchange “is a gamble. I can’t tell you it will bring development. But I can tell you it won’t come without it.”
While Williams was at the table with committee members Mattison asked him about sources of money needed to buy right of way for the Irene Road project. Committee Co-Chairman Clint Morris, a Belvidere city alderman, interjected at that point that he didn’t believe Williams “has the answer to the question of funding.”
“We need to know,” Mattison said, “Funding is a big issue for us.”
Committee member Terri Glass, who like Mattison is on the county board, offered, “If we’re going to gamble on this we night as well gamble on it now.”
Hanson Professional Services Inc. out of Rockford is doing the engineering work. Its regional vice president, Stuart M. Kemp, offered a “worst-case scenario” to the committee, in which the city and county spend a lot of up-front money and then find out they are unable to successfully negotiate the purchase of the needed property.
Should it go beyond the first step the entire engineering bill would be an estimated $230,000.