Editorial: Former DuPage chief brings practicality, vision to tollway in transition

The Illinois Tollway is never lacking for controversy, but at least as Robert Schillerstrom takes the helm of the tollway board, the chief topic of conversation is no longer corruption. That's good on many levels, not the least of which is that it opens the way for pointed philosophical dialogue just as numerous projects appear on the horizon with significant ramifications for the suburbs.

In an interview with the Daily Herald's Transportation and Projects Writer Marni Pyke, Schillerstrom, of Naperville, showed the promise of an energetic approach to developing his vision for the agency. That alone is welcome. The tollway is a central figure in the economic growth and quality of life in the suburbs, and it needs the strong, ambitious leadership Schillerstrom, the former three-time chairman of the DuPage County Board, can provide.

But much also depends on the nature of the vision being developed, and here again Schillerstrom shows a thoughtful balance between forcefully pressing ahead on his own ideas and remaining open to the evolution of ideas from others.

Since his days at the county board, Schillerstrom has been a steadfast advocate of western access to O'Hare, and he'll no doubt play an assertive role in bringing the airlines and other interests to the table to produce airport access that is complete and efficient. At the same time, he understands that the process must be carefully managed, acknowledging "it will have to be done incrementally."

And he brings a similar balance between practicality and aspiration to activities far removed from his DuPage County stomping grounds. Reflecting on the proposed extension of Route 53 through Lake County, he expresses a clear understanding of the comparative economic impact of such a project, the funding challenges it faces and the broad discussion, including the notion of converting some existing freeways to tollways, that will be required if this half-century dream of a road is ever to be built.

To that question, as to all others, he also brings the practical experience of a local leader who understands that the bills have to be paid and where the payment comes from. "If we do a project," he told Pyke with a degree of insight that seems to elude many politicians, "we have to find a way to pay for it."

As Schillerstrom takes over as board chairman, the tollway system has reached a pivotal stage in its evolution. Mature and self-sufficient in accomplishing the goals for which it was created, it now faces a period of ambitious new objectives that will have fundamental and long-lasting impacts on suburban life.

Schillerstrom offers a record of success and political savvy that will be useful in guiding the agency at such a time. We look forward to the leadership he will bring.

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