Elgin-0’Hare in line for major improvements
By Katie Anderson For The Courier-News May 16, 2012 7:46PM
Heading eastbound Tuesday along the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway in Hanover Park. May 15, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 29, 2012 8:37AM
After years of planning, construction could begin next year to bring the Elgin-O’Hare Expressway closer to at least one if its namesakes.
And other major road improvements, including some to local tollways, also are in store.
Since 2007, the Illinois Department of Transportation has been working with the Federal Highway Administration to improve connections between the existing Elgin-O’Hare Expressway — which ends short of both Elgin and the airport — and I-90, I-294 and I-290.
The project — called the Elgin-O’Hare West Bypass — passed a major milestone this spring.
“Illinois Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider and Illinois Tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur signed the draft environmental impact statement,” said Wendy Abrams, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Tollway.
“The completion of the draft impact statement moves the project another step closer to construction.”
The news means that construction can start “as early as 2013,” according to Pete Harmet, an IDOT spokesman.
According to an IDOT website created for the project, it would include:
Widening the existing Elgin-O’Hare Expressway from Gary Avenue in Hanover Park to I-290 in Itasca.
An easterly extension of the Elgin-O’Hare from I-290 to O’Hare International Airport.
A new West Bypass of O’Hare, connecting the Elgin-O’Hare to I-90 and I-294.
Improvements to connecting arterial roadways.
Although the westernmost tail of the project will only directly reach into Hanover Park, Schaumburg and Hoffman Estates, Elgin-area motorists either already have felt or will feel its impact.
Paying for it
The first is in increased tolls.
Beginning in January, basic I-PASS users saw their tolls rise from 40 cents to 75 cents, and drivers typically paying cash now have to cough up $1.50 at plazas that used to charge 80 cents.
Back when they were just proposed increases, the new rates met with some opposition.
At a public hearing in August at the Kane County Government Center in Geneva, several area residents opposed the project due to the hikes.
Richard Stack of Huntley, who said he operated a small business in Chicago, explained that he had been forced to cut back on spending because his business has not seen a profit since 2008. He added during his testimony that he did not understand why the toll roads couldn’t do the same thing.
Kurt Koenig of Geneva also spoke in opposition. With tough economic times, it just is not the right time, he said.
“I would strongly suggest you revisit this and come up with a more practical plan,” he said.
The Elgin-O’Hare project isn’t all to blame, though. The bypass is just one part of a several-billion-dollar plan to improve transportation across the northern portion of the state.
In August, the Illinois Tollway Board of Directors adopted a 15-year capital program called Move Illinois: The Illinois Tollway Driving the Future, which committed $3.1 billion toward the $3.4 billion needed to begin building just the Elgin-O’Hare part of the massive project.
The entire $12 billion Move Illinois program is financed by bonds backed by the toll rate increase for passenger vehicles.
A previously approved commercial-vehicle toll increase scheduled to begin in 2015 and expected to include funding from new, additional toll facilities also will help pay for the work, but officials say either cutbacks or more money will be needed.
“DuPage County has agreed to take the lead role in analyzing a wide range of options to help close the $300 million funding gap,” tollway spokeswoman Abrams said in an email, “... including a scaled-back version of the project, land donations, federal appropriations, federal loans and use of local and county taxes or taxing districts.”
Traffic and jobs
The anticipated effects of the massive Move Illinois project aren’t all bad, some say.
Tom Rickert, with the Kane County Division of Transportation, said the project could make for less traffic congestion in the county, particularly around I-90’s exits.
The project also has been touted as a way to put hundreds of construction workers, engineers and other professionals back to work.
Furthermore, it is estimated that the remodeling projects associated with the larger project, including the Elgin-O’Hare West Bypass, will add more than $10 billion to the regional economy by 2030, Abrams said.
As this process continues, residents affected can stay up-to-date on the project by visiting elginohare-westbypass.org.
“The public will continue to be involved in this project as we move toward the start of construction,” Abrams said.
“The Illinois Tollway is meeting quarterly with local mayors in the project area and plans to create a local advisory council for the Elgin-O’Hare West Bypass this summer to continue to gather community input and feedback throughout the duration of the project.”