Feud over railroad land tollway wants for bypass could cost public 'millions'

Illinois tollway leaders asked federal regulators to quickly confirm their right to acquire Canadian Pacific Railroad land needed for a toll road on O'Hare's western edge, arguing delays will cost the public "millions of dollars."

The petition filed Wednesday asks U.S. Surface Transportation Board members to take the tollway's side that its powers to condemn property pre-empt federal laws governing railroad rights.

The issue centers on CP-owned property in Bensenville near the airport the agency wants for bridges supporting the future I-490, a toll road connecting with the Tri-State Tollway in Franklin Park, the Jane Addams Tollway near Des Plaines, and Route 390/Elgin-O'Hare Expressway that is being extended east along Thorndale Avenue.

The bridge piers "will leave ample room for future expansion of the railroad's operations," tollway attorneys stated.

But CP executives have argued the tollway has other location options and doesn't have to build an expressway on its property. The project would severely limit CP's operations and prevent it meeting demands for rail service, they say.

Tollway officials asked the Surface Transportation Board to consider their petition on an expedited basis, noting that the state, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Federal Highway Administration have committed millions in planning and construction costs contingent on the road going through as planned.

"The tollway is now committed to this project," tollway general counsel David Goldberg said. "Any delays at this point will cost the public millions of dollars."

For its part, CP counters that messing with rail property it owns will cause rail gridlock in the region and nation, risk 300 jobs and compromise delivery of freight.

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

The tollway stated that negotiations with CP about the location of the bypass were proceeding normally until the railroad sued and terminated discussions.

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