Leaders in communities along the western edge of O'Hare International Airport say the extension of the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway and a western bypass around the airport will pave the way for new jobs and redevelopment.
But they also say the region won't experience the project's full economic potential unless a western access road is constructed -- leading to a new terminal that would be built on the west side of O'Hare.
"A bypass is better than nothing," Itasca Village President Jeff Pruyn said Thursday. "But the real economic benefits to that roadway are with western access with a western terminal."
As part of the Illinois toll road's new 15-year capital plan, about $3.1 billion will be set aside to extend the Elgin-O'Hare east and build the bypass skirting the airport's west side, linking I-90 to the north and the Tri-State to the south. Even with a toll increase, an extra $300 million is needed from federal, local or other sources before the Elgin-O'Hare West Bypass can be built.
And don't hold your breath on that one. The project is being done in phases: The existing Elgin-O'Hare would be widened and converted to a tollway, starting in 2013. Then, from 2014 to 2017, the road would be extended to the east for almost five miles, The southern part of the bypass would be done from 2018 to 2022, with work on the northern leg planned for 2023 to 2025.
Once completed, Bensenville Village President Frank Soto said the bypass will be "a tremendous benefit" to the region.
"The difficulty we have in our area is a transportation issue -- the traffic," said Soto, adding that the bypass would allow products to be moved faster from one end of the region to the other.
In addition to improving travel times and reducing traffic on local roads, tollway officials said the project will create as many as 65,000 permanent jobs by 2040.
As for the long-sought western terminal at O'Hare, there's uncertainty about when it would be built. It hasn't been determined who would pay for it.
"I don't think there's any doubt that there's going to be western access," Soto said. "The question is whether it's going to include an international terminal or whether it's going to be a parking facility with people movers."
If the western terminal isn't constructed, Pruyn said a parking garage with a train or a monorail system would be "acceptable."
"But if you're going to just build a parking garage and ask people to take a bus ride around the airport, I don't know what advantage there is to that," he said. "I can drive there."
Meanwhile, local leaders are concerned about how the rest of the money is going to be raised to pay the Elgin-O'Hare West Bypass project's $3.4 billion total estimated cost.
An Elgin-O'Hare Western Access Financial Working Group is working to find ways to bridge the $300 million gap between what the tollway will pay and how much the project will cost.
One idea that has Pruyn worried would 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.
Wood Dale Mayor Nunzio Pulice said communities shouldn't have to make significant financial contributions as part of the final plan.
"The bottom line is what are they going to want from us," Pulice said. "What are they expecting from the municipalities?"