Pyke: Your guide to the 2015 road construction season

Remember the steering-wheel-gripping, blood-pressure-rising, fist-shaking, fall-to-your-knees-and-curse-the-sky construction season angst of 2014?

Consider that to be a dress rehearsal for 2015.

True, we don't have the annoying Ohio/Ontario feeder ramp to the Kennedy Expressway rebuild to contend with. But there's a Circle Interchange project, ongoing widening of the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90) and extension of the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway (I-390) to make life interesting.

As usual, the Illinois tollway is the major player in the region with IDOT focused more on repairing roads than breaking new ground.

That could change, assuming Gov. Bruce Rauner introduces a capital plan this spring.

“Updating and improving the state's crumbling infrastructure is one of Gov. Rauner's priorities,” spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said. “He looks forward to working with the legislature to make those investments for the future of Illinois.”

But, “if you want to build stuff ... you need money,” Metropolitan Planning Council Vice President Peter Skosey said.

We'll return to the political aspect of road funding faster than you can say “gas tax,” but first, a recap of where you'll face gridlock in 2015.

The Illinois Department of Transportation is reconstructing the Jane Byrne Interchange (formerly the Circle) where the Kennedy, Dan Ryan and Eisenhower expressways converge. The site is a logjam already and various ramp and lane closures won't help.

On I-90, the saga continues between Elgin and the Tri-State Tollway, where drivers will shift to the inside lanes, creating a work zone on the outside lanes.

Tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur promised “a whole new, extra-lane, state-of-the-art roadway come the end 2016.” The other traffic-stopper as cranes and excavators put on a show for gawkers is the extension of the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway (I-390) east to O'Hare International Airport.

The incomplete Elgin-O'Hare was often a punchline because it went to neither location. Thursday, however, seven massive steel beams towered over the intersection of Thorndale Road and Mittel Drive in Wood Dale — tangible evidence of the eastward momentum.

Project engineer Dave Miller of T.Y. Lin International admitted to goose bumps as the beams arrived. “They'll be pouring concrete soon,” he said.

Completion of the Elgin-O'Hare is years off, but one deliverable for drivers in 2016 is a flyover ramp from outbound I-290 to westbound I-390.

“It's going to be a huge improvement for people,” Lafleur said, “and those signals people are used to having to stop for — some of those will end up going away.”

Also coming in 2016 is a widened and rehabbed I-390 between Lake Street and I-290. The makeover comes at a price. The tollway expects to start charging 20 cents a mile tolls on I-390 — currently a freeway — in 2016.

The tollway's 15-year construction program costs $12 billion. The state's six-year $31 billion capital plan originating in 2009 has expired.

Cue the governor.

Following the Easter break, Skosey said he's “pretty confident” Rauner will start discussions about a capital plan with the four legislative leaders.

The governor has “repeatedly talked about the value of infrastructure and its role in growing the economy,” he said.

Skosey was struck by the irony of the five leaders embracing a short-term budget fix Rauner signed March 26 that sucks $250 million out the road fund, then pivoting to pump money back into infrastructure.

“But that agreement came to illustrate (Rauner) has his principles, but it also shows he can work with others and compromise,” Skosey said.

Rauner's budget remarks in February referenced restructuring the gas tax but gave no specifics, Skosey said.

As for paying the piper, one going theory is converting Illinois' flat 19 cents a gallon tax to an equivalent percentage, so there's little initial difference to the consumer.

But as gas prices rise, people would pay more and the capital fund would grow.

“Gas is at a historic low, but it's likely to increase. Then they could bill it not as a tax increase but a tax restructuring,” Skosey said.

The Metropolitan Planning Council is campaigning for a re-investment in infrastructure.

“People aren't calling for new roads and trains ... they want fixes to everyday problems ... pot holes, train signals, crumbling viaducts. The maintenance side is critically important,” Skosey said.

One more thing

The new I-390 bridge over Mittel Drive in Wood Dale is being graced by decorative engravings of oak and maple leaves.

The tollway typically offers communities the chance to add aesthetic designs on bridges, retaining walls and other new structures it builds, spokesman Dan Rozek said. Wood Dale requested the artwork and is paying the additional cost.

Got road work questions, comments or advice? Drop me an email at

By the numbers

Here are some stats on the Illinois tollway's building program.

• The tollway's 15-year capital plan will cost $12 billion.

• The widening and rebuilding project on the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90) is 62 miles and includes 109 bridges.

• The cost of the I-90 work is $2.5 billion.

• The Elgin-O'Hare Expressway (I-390) extension from Lake Street to O'Hare International Airport and a connecting ring road around O'Hare between Franklin Park and Des Plaines will cost $3.4 billion. The project includes 17 miles of new road.

• Unlike the rest of the tollway system, where tolls average about 6 cents a mile, the new Elgin-O'Hare and ring road will be priced at 20 cents a mile.

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'Massive' roadwork ahead for drivers

Expect delays, think alternate routes as Circle Interchange work begins

  Steel beams form the framework for a new bridge over Mittel Road in Wood Dale. It's part of the Illinois tollway's extension of the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway. Bev Horne/
  Crews take advantage of a break from the rain to build a flyover bridge linking I-290 and I-390. Bev Horne/
  A new bridge over Mittel Road in Wood Dale is part of the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway extension to the airport. Bev Horne/
  Crews work on a flyover bridge connecting I-290 and I-390. Bev Horne/
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