South of the first junction with I-55, Illinois 53 follows old U.S. 66 and parallels Interstate 55, entering downtown Joliet, which is about four miles east of I-55. Illinois 53 also passes directly in front of Stateville Correctional Center between Joliet and Romeoville. From Joliet it follows the original U.S. 66 alignment to the south. It remains a four-lane divided highway for about 15 miles, passing through Elwood and the former Joliet Army Ammunition Plant, part of which is now occupied by the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery. Route 53 narrows to two lanes just outside Wilmington and crosses the Kankakee River in downtown Wilmington. It then continues southwest through Braidwood and Braceville on its way to Gardner, where it loops around the southern part of town before ending at I-55.
|Schaumburg|| I-290 (Eisenhower Expressway) East – West Suburbs|
I-90 (Northwest Tollway) – Rockford, Chicago
|Only accessible via local lanes of collector–distributor ramp. IL 53 overlaps eastbound I-290 for ; see exit list for I-290.|
|Rolling Meadows||IL 62 – Algonquin Road||Only accessible via local lanes of collector-distributor ramp|
|Kirchoff Road||Southbound entrance, northbound exit|
|Euclid Avenue||Full cloverleaf interchange|
|Palatine||US 14 – Northwest Highway||Half cloverleaf interchange|
|Palatine, Arlington Heights||Palatine Road||Full cloverleaf interchange|
|US 12 – Rand Road||Southbound entrance, northbound exit|
|IL 53 North/68 – Dundee Road||Freeway continues north unnumbered to Lake-Cook Road as IL 53 joins westbound Dundee Road in northeast Palatine. Southbound IL 53 follows freeway traveling southbound.|
|Lake-Cook Road||Northern terminus of unnumbered northeast Palatine bypass.|
In 1967 Illinois 53 was extended to Gardner, and in 1995 Illinois Route 129 was routed onto Illinois 53 south of Braidwood. This lasted a year until Illinois 129 was dropped entirely south of Braidwood. Near the northern end, the freeway was extended from Dundee Road to Lake-Cook Road in 1989.
In 1990, with the construction of Interstate 355, Illinois 53 was moved off of the Interstate 290/355 combination south of Biesterfield Road and back onto its original alignment.
The freeway has been opposed by several organizations, notably the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club and vocal residents of Long Grove, which lies directly in the path of the Illinois 53 freeway extension. The Sierra Club opposes the roadway extension due to the presence of some ecologically sensitive marshes, the lack of alternative forms of mass transportation, and evidence that construction of the proposed highway will merely spur more development and congestion in the future. This phenomenon is known as suburban sprawl.
Proponents of the freeway argue that congestion in Lake County has already reached economically damaging levels, and that a freeway would save millions in fuel costs that would otherwise be lost in congestion. In addition, a freeway would substantially supplement an existing disorganized cluster of roads in the county; unlike neighboring counties, Lake and McHenry County lack arterial-capacity east-west and north-south state highways. In addition, proponents note that future projections call for housing and commerce development to reach the McHenry and Lake County areas regardless of the presence of a freeway. Finally, proponents note that the majority of the affected population supports building the Illinois 53 extension.
In 1999, the Illinois Department of Transportation talked of widening Illinois 53 south of U.S. Route 20 (Lake Street) and generally north of Interstate 88 to a five-lane section. Opposition from a citizen group called NIFTI (Neighbors Influencing Fifty-Three improvement) began to lobby for a smaller expansion plan of three-lanes. The road south of Lake Street runs through predominantly residential areas and light industry. The term Context Sensitive Design and Solutions was introduced to the state of Illinois through the efforts of this group.