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updated: 7/15/2011 9:29 AM

Elgin-O'Hare Expressway plan calls for tolls

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There's consensus the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway extension and western bypass around the airport will be tolled, but whether a systemwide toll increase is part of the package remains unclear.

Gov. Pat Quinn, along with state and local leaders, Thursday hailed the completion of a report that gives a blueprint for expanding the expressway, which ends in Itasca, east into O'Hare International Airport.

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"It's an outline for all of us to create jobs today and tomorrow," Quinn said. The project is expected to generate 65,000 permanent jobs and more than 13,000 construction jobs each year.

Although it's now a given that the expressway will charge tolls, it's uncertain if rates on existing tollways will go up to pay for the $2.2 billion plan.

The report indicates a systemwide 10 cent rate increase would generate $71 million in 2012 and grow to $294 million by 2030, the Daily Herald first reported in June. Another option is instituting tolls on the north part of I-290 between I-355 and I-90. That would accrue $42 million in annual toll revenues, however, converting a free highway into a tolled system would be controversial.

Tolls on the entire stretch of the Elgin-O'Hare and the bypass would bring in about $97 million annually. The bypass would stretch along the western airport boundary connecting with I-294 to the south, the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway in the center and I-90 to the north.

Asked about the possibility of a systemwide increase, Illinois State Toll Highway Authority Executive Director Kristi Lafleur said that was a decision the agency board of directors would make.

"The tollway works as a system," she said. "(The Tri-State) I-294 is almost 50 percent of our revenue but we don't take 50 percent of our dollars and spend them on it, we take those dollars and invest in the system -- that's the power of the tollway. Ultimately, we need to look at what's best for the region and we'll be weighing those priorities."

One other hot funding topic is paying for the project with local funds, possibly through a share in taxes from new development, but municipalities surrounding the airport oppose that idea.

Originally, Chicago had planned to dovetail the expressway project with a western terminal but has put that idea on the back burner because of opposition from United and American Airlines.

Former DuPage County Chairman Robert Schillerstrom urged the city not to drop the western terminal, saying, "don't dumb it down, don't make it half the project."

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