Area officials are appealing to federal lawmakers to spare municipalities from having to contribute tens of millions of dollars for a planned western bypass around O'Hare International Airport.
Higher fees on the state's tollways will generate about $3.1 billion to extend the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway east and build the bypass skirting the airport's west side, linking I-90 to the north and the Tri-State Tollway to the south.
But the Elgin-O'Hare West Bypass project's total price tag is $3.4 billion -- and it hasn't been determined where the remaining $300 million will come from.
This week, a contingent of mayors, DuPage County officials and business representatives spent two days in Washington, D.C., lobbying federal lawmakers for assistance.
"We reiterated everywhere how big and important this is to the Chicago area and to Illinois," DuPage County Board member JR McBride said. "Getting this project done would create jobs and ease (traffic congestion) for our constituents."
The group was going through a series of about a dozen meetings when it was announced a compromise had been reached on a new federal transportation bill, which now is working its way through Congress.
While the legislation doesn't specifically set aside money for the O'Hare bypass, DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin said he's confident "a significant sum of money" will go toward the project through grants.
Using federal grant money to address the $300 million funding gap would put less of a financial burden on local sources.
One unpopular idea for raising money locally is 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.
Cronin and McBride said they would prefer to see federal money make up the difference. And they pointed out the entire $300 million isn't needed immediately.
"We just need chunks of the $300 million over the time that it takes to construct the project," Cronin said.
The goal is to begin work by 2014.
The contingent Cronin traveled with wasn't the only area group lobbying for bypass funding in Washington, D.C.
Des Plaines Mayor Martin Moylan was part of a group that included the mayors of Franklin Park, Northlake and Bensenville. They spoke with Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, and U.S. Reps. Peter Roskam, Mike Quigley and Jan Schakowsky.
Moylan said the bypass project is vital because it would help create as many as 65,000 jobs by 2040.
"In our community, in Des Plaines, when I go door to door, people are talking about jobs," Moylan said. "They need work."