Lee Street exit off I-90 wanted but cost an issue

A proposed eastbound exit at Lee Street on the Jane Addams Tollway is being billed as a boon for local businesses and future economic growth near Des Plaines, Rosemont and O'Hare International Airport, but whether the project becomes a reality may all depend on funding and who pays the bill.

Construction is now underway on a $12 million project to replace the Lee Street bridge and two ramps that carry vehicles to and from the east. It's part of a larger, $2.5 billion roadway rehabilitation project on I-90 from O'Hare to Rockford.

Tollway officials say adding an eastbound exit at Lee Street would cost an extra $13 million — half of which would be paid by the tollway and the other half to be funded by local municipalities, including Des Plaines, Rosemont and Chicago.

Discussions are still taking place about how the costs would be shared.

“There's been a lot of discussion,” Des Plaines City Manager Mike Bartholomew said . “Our position is it's a great thing. The question has always been who's going to pay and how much.”

Supporters of the project, including state Rep. Marty Moylan — the former Des Plaines mayor — say time may be of the essence to decide whether the eastbound exit is built, because construction on the Lee Street bridge is happening now.

“It's time-sensitive,” said Moylan, who hosted a public meeting Tuesday night at Des Plaines City Hall about the ongoing I-90 improvement project. “They're going to be tearing up the street. The time to act is now.”

Moylan touted the plan as “vital for the economy of Des Plaines,” since the eastbound exit could provide easier access to Rivers Casino.

The exit would also provide access to two new facilities being constructed on the northeast side of O'Hare: a cargo center and rental car facility. It's also near where Rosemont owns a former par-3 golf course behind the Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Chicago O'Hare. Village officials are marketing the land for potential development as part of a new tax increment financing district, where property tax money above a certain point is steered to the site and away from local governments.

Rocco Zucchero, deputy chief of engineering for planning for the Illinois Tollway, said an eastbound Lee Street exit could always be built at a later date, but doing it now would be more efficient.

“We're building it in a manner which will accommodate a new eastbound off-ramp,” Zucchero said.

Bartholomew said Des Plaines has other projects higher on its priority list, including the raising and widening of River Road as part of a flood control project. But it's possible Moylan could help the city get grant funding for the Lee Street project, he said.

This week, crews began constructing a new center support column for the new Lee Street bridge. The project also includes replacement of the existing eastbound entrance and westbound exit ramps, along with the addition of new traffic signals and turn lanes. Work is expected to be complete by next spring.

As part of the I-90 rebuilding and widening project, outside lanes underneath the bridge will be constructed in 2015, and inside lanes in 2016.

Were an eastbound exit to be included as part of the project, Zucchero said the “peak of efficiency” would be in 2015.

Besides the three municipalities involved in discussions — Des Plaines, Rosemont and Chicago — officials from the Illinois Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration are also privy to those talks.

Zucchero said Lee Street is within a runway protection zone, and FAA officials are analyzing the proposal because construction of the off-ramp would require some land from O'Hare.

“We're trying to see how to come up with funding,” Zucchero said. “The biggest challenge is how to get everybody (together) on what this design is going to look like.”

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