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posted: 4/10/2017 5:30 AM

Proposed Tri-State makeover could be tricky

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  • Traffic chugs along the Central Tri-State Tollway looking north from the O'Hare Oasis. The Illinois tollway is considering rebuilding and widening the road, but hurdles remain.

      Traffic chugs along the Central Tri-State Tollway looking north from the O'Hare Oasis. The Illinois tollway is considering rebuilding and widening the road, but hurdles remain.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

 
 

Rebuilding and widening the mammoth Central Tri-State Tollway (I-294) is complicated enough given it's the system's most-used road, with up to 185,000 cars and trucks clogging it daily.

Throw in a tangle of towns where officials either hate or love the project, plus churn on the tollway board, and the planned redo gets even gnarlier.

The Illinois tollway intends to fix the road between 95th Street in the South Suburbs and Balmoral Avenue in Rosemont. There's no final design or budget yet, but a decision is expected soon.

Improvements likely could include extra lanes and new interchanges -- exciting news for anyone who's fumed in gridlock or been thwarted by a lack of exits or entrances on the 22-mile section.

A number of local municipal and business leaders also welcome the possibility of five lanes in each direction.

"Any widening that allows better access to our community is beneficial to Rosemont and the region," Rosemont Mayor Bradley Stephens said.

But folks in Hinsdale, who fear a wider toll road means a "devastating" loss of homes and parks, are packing board meetings to express their objections.

"What is the justification for building the road?" Hinsdale Village President Tom Cauley asked. "We can't get any information. I've never dealt with a less transparent entity."

Another hitch could be funding. Close to $2 billion was budgeted for the project in the tollway's current 15-year construction program.

That will pay to rebuild the existing section, but it doesn't include sufficient funds for five lanes, officials said previously. And, construction will surely send some drivers packing, meaning revenue losses on a road that generates about 45 percent of the tolls collected by the agency.

Navigating through the engineering, political and budget sinkholes requires finesse. However, nearly half the tollway board -- three board seats and the influential chairman spot -- are in play. The terms of Directors James Banks and James Sweeney of Chicago, Earl Dotson of Rockford and Chairman Bob Schillerstrom of Naperville end May 1.

Gov. Bruce Rauner, who appoints board members, hasn't shown his hand yet, although labor union leader Sweeney, Banks and Dotson are legacies from former Gov. Pat Quinn. Sweeney, for one, is on thin ice after parking an inflatable rat on the tollway lawn last summer to protest some anti-union tactics.

Schillerstrom, however, was chosen by Rauner in 2015. And you can bet the project would not be advancing without the governor's consent.

"We'll listen to what people have to say and do the best we can to eliminate concerns," Schillerstrom said of the project. "We've been doing that and we'll continue to do that throughout the entire process."

From a driver's perspective, the Central Tri-State is an excruciating slog at rush-hour. A 2014 engineering study offered some glimmers of better things to come from digital message boards with real-time traffic information to extra lanes that could allow for higher (legal) speeds.

And for communities along the route, the revamp opens the giddy possibility of new interchanges and cooperation on flood-control projects. That would be welcome in the Elmhurst area, where a partial interchange at the Route 64/Lake Street exit has incensed drivers for decades.

Got an opinion about a Central Tri-State redo? Drop me an email at mpyke@dailyherald.com.

One more thing

Five lanes may spell trouble for the Hinsdale and O'Hare oases. Although the gas stations and convenience stores on either side of I-294 could remain, the glass structures spanning the road could be collateral damage.

Gridlock alert

Ouch. Expect lane closures on Route 59 between the Jane Addams Tollway and North Avenue in Bartlett, Hoffman Estates, Streamwood, West Chicago and Wayne. The road repairs, plus curb and gutter work, will wrap up this fall.

Your voice

Terrence True of Winfield is alarmed by drivers that ignore the law about turning on car lights when it's dark and when it's raining. "Most do but a few do not!" True wrote. "These few present potentially dangerous situations. Sometimes you cannot see their car until you are almost on top of them. I'm usually on the road around 6:45 a.m. each weekday morning and it's truly amazing how many people fail to turn on their lights."

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