A systemwide toll increase and tolls on a segment of I-290 are all on the table as possible ways of paying to extend the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway and build a western bypass around the airport, according to a draft report compiled by a state advisory group.
With limited state cash, the idea of finishing the Elgin-O'Hare has become something of a running joke. It's been dubbed the IHOP Expressway because it only stretches between Itasca and Hanover Park.
But the project has gained momentum after nearby towns agreed on a route for the western bypass and Gov. Pat Quinn appointed an advisory group consisting of top transportation officials and local leaders to come up with guidelines for the mega project.
The draft report indicates there's a consensus the project will require tolling.
"Constrained funding has made it clear that toll revenues will be a vital component of the project's financial plan," the report states.
The original $3.6 billion plan has been scaled back to $2.2 billion. It involves expanding the expressway east to O'Hare and building the bypass, a highway that would stretch along the western airport boundary connecting with the Tri-State to the south in Franklin Park, to the EOH extension in the center and with I-90 to the north near the Des Plaines oasis.
One concept floated to pay for the work is a systemwide toll hike, although that scenario would need approval from the tollway board of directors. The report indicates a 10 cent rate increase would generate $71 million in 2012 and grow to $294 million by 2030.
Another trial balloon involves instituting tolls on the north part of I-290 between I-355 and I-90. This could result in up to $42 million in annual toll revenues, but the report notes that converting a free highway into a tollway would pose significant hurdles.
Implementing tolls on the entire Elgin-O'Hare Expressway, including the original section, and on the western bypass could bring in up to $97 million annually.
More revenues would figure in if access ramps to I-290 from the Elgin-O'Hare were tolled and if congestion pricing was used, which involves charging drivers more during rush hour.
The report also looks at bus rapid transit along the expressway, noting that federal and state grants will be crucial to pay for such a system, as local transit agencies lack any funds for expansion.