Tollway gets one western bypass victory, but railroad land spat remains

One obstacle to a western bypass around O'Hare fell Thursday as Illinois tollway directors approved a deal with Chicago to buy airport property, but another issue looms.

The tollway will pay $96 million for land on O'Hare's western edge that will allow it to build a bypass connecting to the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway, I-90 in Des Plaines and the Tri-State Tollway near Franklin Park.

It's a giant step, but a dispute with the Canadian Pacific Railroad over acquiring property at its rail yard near Bensenville has put the project in jeopardy, tollway Chairman Robert Schillerstrom said.

Canadian Pacific in 2015 sued the tollway in federal court, claiming it was violating laws protecting interstate commerce by trying to condemn a portion of a Canadian Pacific train yard for the bypass. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit earlier this year.

Currently, "Canadian Pacific still refuses to talk to us," Schillerstrom said.

"In a very, very short amount of time without the land or some likelihood we'll be able to attain it, the project will be stopped or dramatically slowed," which would mean the loss of thousands of jobs, Schillerstrom said.

CP officials were unable to comment.

The Chicago City Council still must approve its intergovernmental agreement with the tollway.

The amicable resolution of the O'Hare deal caps some tough negotiations with Chicago over a 300-foot corridor of land. The city had floated a $190 million figure, which tollway officials balked at. The $96 million price tag "falls within our budgeted amount," Schillerstrom said.

"Like all negotiations, I'm sure I'd be happier if it was a bit less and I'm sure Chicago would be happier if it was a bit more," he said, "but at the end of the day I think it is a fair price."

Negotiations with Canadian Pacific, on the other hand, fell apart last year.

The tollway stated in court documents that negotiations with CP about the location of the bypass were proceeding normally until November 2015, when the railroad terminated discussions and filed the lawsuit.

Tollway attorneys said the agency had not initiated any condemnation proceedings and has not yet settled on the exact location of the bypass where it would connect with the Tri-State.

Schillerstrom said he's appealed to state leaders and the Illinois congressional delegation to intervene with CP but with little success.

The bypass is part of a $3.4 billion project that includes extending the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway (Route 390) east to the airport and the bypass.

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