A proposal to have tolls cover most of the cost of extending the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway and building a western bypass around O'Hare International Airport doesn't mean DuPage County would avoid paying its fair share of the project, county board Chairman Dan Cronin said.
"We are contributing to the construction of this project by virtue of the fact that we will be paying higher tolls out here," Cronin said Friday.
Cronin's comments came one day after a tollway board member said DuPage should make a larger financial contribution to the $3.4 billion Elgin-O'Hare West Bypass project.
"The folks that are going to benefit most dramatically, which is DuPage County ... are not going to be paying enough of a share at this point," tollway board member Bill Morris said.
As part of the tollway's proposed 15-year capital plan, tolls would almost double systemwide to raise $12.1 billion for a long list of desired projects. About $3.1 billion of that money is expected to be set aside to extend the Elgin-O'Hare east and build the bypass route along the airport's west side.
If the toll increase is approved, an extra $300 million would be needed from other federal, local or other sources for the Elgin-O'Hare West Bypass to be built.
Still, Morris said the current proposal would have DuPage pay "less than 3 percent" of the project's total cost while getting all the benefits. In addition to reducing traffic on local roads, the project creates as many as 65,000 permanent jobs by 2040, officials say.
"The reality is that we need to have everybody invest in this program," Morris said. "We need people to step up to the plate."
But Cronin says he's "not enthusiastic" about one suggestion to create a special taxing area for businesses and industries within 1.5 miles of the project. It would affect such communities as Schaumburg, Itasca, Elk Grove Village, Hanover Park, Roselle and Wood Dale.
"I know that the mayors share my concern," Cronin said. "We'll talk about it. It doesn't mean that it's going to be agreed to."
Cronin, who is chairman of the Elgin-O'Hare Western Access Financial Working Group, said officials are working to bridge the $300 million gap between what the tollway would pay and how much the project would cost. One idea being considered would have Chicago donate some land along the western perimeter of the airport that could be used for the bypass route.
There are efforts to get federal funding, but Cronin said: "It's no secret that the federal government is struggling with finance issues these days."
While there's uncertainty about whether a western terminal will be constructed, Cronin says he's hopeful that a long-desired western access road into O'Hare someday will be built.
"We have to get into the airport from the west," Cronin said. "We will not realize the full economic potential without the terminal. The terminal must be built."