Duckworth: Western O’Hare access tough sell, but doable

Western access to O’Hare International Airport requires more than a parking lot and a bus to distant terminals for it to work effectively, Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth said.

The Hoffman Estates Democrat met Thursday with transportation leaders including Illinois tollway, IDOT and Pace planners plus the mayors of Schaumburg and Hanover Park to discuss construction of the Elgin-O’Hare Expressway extension.

The western terminal proposal has gathered dust for several years partly because of the economy and also because of opposition from American and United airlines, who say it’s not necessary. But the city of Chicago and the carriers are supposed to meet in March to discuss the next phase of O’Hare expansion, which includes runways and a terminal, long desired by towns on the west side of the airport.

“I support the western terminal idea; I don’t know how achievable it is in the short term,” Duckworth said. “But, I think if we can get western access in any way, shape or form where it allows for people to get to the western edge, park and have a fast way of getting to the terminal — that would be a good start.” She cited O’Hare’s Airport Transit System, or ATS elevated trains that go to each terminal.

“I don’t think people will go to the western edge of O’Hare and park just to ride a bus all the way around,” Duckworth said. “They’d rather ride their car — it has to be practical.”

But she acknowledged that with American Airlines in bankruptcy proceedings, “it’s a hard sell. Whatever we do has to be achievable; maybe there’s an intermediate step,” said Duckworth, whose district takes in the expressway.

The extended Elgin-O’Hare Expressway would travel along Thorndale Road from its eastern terminus in Itasca to the airport and connect to a bypass that circles around the western side of O’Hare. What exactly will greet people when they arrive at the airport is still a question mark.

The expressway project costs $3.4 billion and the tollway will spend about $95.6 million on it in 2013. Construction anticipated for this year includes work on noise walls and the interchange with I-290, tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur said.

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