Craver: Is there a case for not going with the (continuous) flow?

The reason why the McHenry County Board’s efforts five years ago to develop a great seal failed is that no one knew how to say “Build now and think later” in Latin.

If the county ever tries again, I can think of no better seal than wrapping that slogan around a diagram of the Randall Road continuous-flow intersection.

The proposed CFI at Randall and Algonquin roads is the greatest embodiment of local governments’ inability to think long-term. OK, covering half of McHenry County with rooftops without any thought of our water supply is the greatest embodiment, but the CFI comes in a close second.

The CFI is not set in stone. But the odds edged up a bit after word came last month that the federal government would pick up 80 percent of the estimated $13 million price tag.

Yes, federal funding got us the widening of Rakow Road and the Algonquin Western Bypass. But I remember when the feds came calling with “free money” and the County Board seriously entertained wackadoodle plans to give it to two white-elephant sports complexes that, had they been built, would be growing weeds and not the local economy.

The cost to rebuild the Randall Road intersection is the price of bad planning.

Randall Road was built to act as a transportation corridor allowing for faster north-south travel than Route 31 could provide. That is, until developers lined it from Crystal Lake to Aurora with subdivisions and big-box stores.

The purpose of a CFI seems to be to reduce wait times at busy intersections by intimidating drivers into taking another route. It involves three sets of traffic lights, driving across the oncoming lane of traffic to make a left turn, and time-space wormholes postulated by Steven Hawking. The design seems to be a temporary measure until what’s left of Detroit invents flying cars.

I’m sure drivers would adapt quickly, but it’s the principle of spending millions to fix something broken by lack of vision that irks me. The CFI is part of an $80 million plan to widen Randall Road to six lanes from its start point at Ackman Road south to County Line Road.

Part of me wonders if our governments’ bad planning will negate the need for this expensive fix. Won’t Randall Road naturally decongest over the next decade when motorists abandon it to flock to the next poorly-thought-out shopping corridor?

The Nov. 12 announcement of federal funding for the CFI came four days after government mucky-mucks cut the ribbon on the full interchange at Interstate 90 and Route 47 in Huntley. Believe me, the governments along Route 47 have the exact same dreams of rooftops and big-box stores that the villages along Randall Road did.

Stick this column in a time capsule. Here is my prediction for the future, based on years of living in and covering McHenry County:

• We spend millions to build a CFI at Randall and Algonquin roads.

• A decade from now, it turns out to be unnecessary because the Route 47 corridor becomes the Next Big Thing. The governments of Huntley, Lake in the Hills, Lakewood and Woodstock cover it with sprawl.

• The governments plead for millions to widen Route 47 and turn its intersections with Route 176 into CFIs.

• A decade later, the Route 47 improvements turn out to be unnecessary because the Route 23 corridor becomes the Next Big Thing.

Watch out, Boone County, here comes our unstoppable sprawl. And, hey, do you have any groundwater you can spare?

Maybe my wiseguy predictions won’t come to pass. But that would require some real planning and forethought by county leaders if and when the economy fully recovers and the fly-by-night developers return.

I’ll give our elected leaders a hint to spare us from future CFIs.

When the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning sends out projections that local municipal populations could double or triple over the next 30 years, those numbers are a warning.

The reason why we have congestion problems is because of short-sighted past leaders who looked at those population numbers and saw not a warning, but a goal to be met.

• Kevin P. Craver is senior reporter for the Northwest Herald. He has won more than 70 state and national journalism awards during his 13 years with the Northwest Herald. He can be reached at 815-526-4618 or at kcraver@shawmedia.com.