Tollway's I-490 project inching toward O'Hare's back door

A new toll road hugging O'Hare's west side and leading into the airport itself is gaining momentum after officials recently approved a $89 million contract with engineers Knight E/A Inc. to oversee construction.

When it's completed at the end of 2025, I-490 is expected to change commuting patterns in the region with connections to the Jane Addams (I-90) and Tri-State (I-294) tollways plus a western entrance to O'Hare International Airport.

"We know it will play a significant role in the mobility and connectivity" of the region, Chief Engineer Paul Kovacs said.

The toll road will connect to I-90 near Des Plaines, I-294 in Franklin Park and Route 390 (the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway), which is under construction. Combined, the I-390 and I-490 projects will cost $3.6 billion.

The road's proximity to the nation's busiest airport and two freight railroads, Union Pacific and Canadian Pacific, add to the complexity of the I-490 corridor, Kovacs said.

The tollway board deferred voting on the Knight contract in April, and the vote last week wasn't unanimous as Director and former state Sen. Karen McConnaughay of Geneva voted "present."

"I'm very supportive of western access," McConnaughay said, but she said she had questions, one being that the contractor was selected under the previous tollway administration.

Executive Director José Alvarez and the tollway's outside auditors scrutinized the contract's scope and the procurement process. "We feel really comfortable bringing it to the board," Alvarez said.

The contract will be divided up into stages with officials reviewing results and issuing payment as each is completed, Alvarez said.

The previous tollway board was replaced by the Illinois General Assembly after concerns about cronyism in awarding contracts surfaced as a result of Daily Herald reports.

The project has been slowed because of legal disputes between the tollway and Canadian Pacific over land the agency needed in CP's Bensenville yard. Alvarez said negotiations with the railroad are wrapping up amicably.

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