Gov. Pat Quinn and a host of dignitaries gathered Tuesday to officially kick off the massive 12-year, $3.4 billion Elgin-O'Hare Western Access Project.
Quinn and others gathered at Park Road and Thorndale Avenue in Itasca to break ground on the lengthening and widening of the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway and construction of a new tollway that will ring the western edge of O'Hare International Airport.
The Elgin-O'Hare will be widened and extended to the east, providing access to the west edge of the airport at a new interchange at York Road. The improved road will be called Illinois Route 390. In all, 17 miles of new tollways and 15 new or improved interchanges highlight the plan, which was predicted to shave precious minutes off commutes for those who drive it daily.
But not everyone is overjoyed.
Standing under the newly unveiled Route 390 sign at the entrance of Itasca, Mayor Jeff Pruyn called Tuesday's groundbreaking "bittersweet," in part because there's no guarantee the western access to the airport will be more than a drop-off point for airport users to take a shuttle bus to terminals.
"There's a lot of benefit to this roadway with true western access, but true western access isn't a ground-level parking lot with a bus ride to the east," he said. "There needs to be some sort of direct route to the terminal.
"Everyone says once they build the roadway, they'll look into that. I just want them to remember that when the roadway has been built."
But Wood Dale Mayor Annunziato Pulice said the construction will be a boon, especially with an interchange at Wood Dale Road.
"I don't have a problem with the highway because we need access and we have the interchange," Pulice said. "If I don't have the interchange at Wood Dale Road, they'll bypass us, and our industrial park dies. But we have it so it should be a big boost to our industrial park."
When complete, improvements include construction of a new, all-electronic toll road around the western border of O'Hare linking the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90) and the Tri-State Tollway (I-294), the extension of the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway east along Thorndale Avenue to O'Hare and adding one lane in each direction of the existing Elgin-O'Hare.
The first phase of the project calls for the widening and overhaul of Route 390, including reconfiguring the I-290 interchange and creating a new interchange at Rohlwing Road.
"If you don't invest, you don't grow," Quinn said. "We are a transportation distribution center for the United States of America, the heart of the heartland, and we can enhance our position by building this road, and it's important to have that attitude. This has been long in planning. Now it's being done."
Illinois Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider said she had to pinch herself prior to the groundbreaking.
"I can't believe we're actually getting to do this," Schneider said. "This started as a concept in 1960 and here we are 53 years later finally getting to break ground on this very important project."
Much of the initial work will be completed by the end of 2015, including six ramps for the new interchange at I-290. The full interchange is expected to be complete by the end of 2016.
Work to extend the highway east to O'Hare is scheduled to be completed by 2018. Then, work begins on the western O'Hare bypass. After the project is completed in 2025, up to 120,000 vehicles per day are expected to use the roadway.
According to figures released by the tollway, the project is expected save drivers $145 million in time and fuel annually by 2040, decrease traffic by more than 16 percent during rush hour and reduce delays on local roads by 24 percent, accommodate three times as many vehicles per day as local roads now carry and reduce travel time by more than seven minutes for the 11-mile trip between the west side of O'Hare Airport and Lake Street.