Tollway reaches deals with railroads on western access to O'Hare

After years of friction, Illinois tollway directors approved separate contracts with Union Pacific and Canadian Pacific railroads totaling $250 million Thursday, removing an obstacle to construction of I-490.

The construction of the ring road on O'Hare International Airport's west side is a game-changing project expected to alter commuting patterns in the region.

The $3.4 billion project will connect I-490 with the Jane Addams Tollway in Des Plaines and the Tri-State Tollway (I-294) in Franklin Park. It will also link with Route 390, the former Elgin-O'Hare Expressway.

"After years of false starts and unfulfilled plans, the I-490 tollway project can now achieve its goals of improving access to O'Hare International Airport," Gov. J.B. Pritzker stated.

The tollway and two railroads are also swapping land as part of the deal, officials said.

Tollway officials have tried to resolve the impasse under three different governors, Republican and Democrat.

"Negotiations for these long-sought agreements began in 2012, and their complexity reflects the importance of the area to the railroads, as well as our own efforts to complete (the project)," Executive Director José Alvarez said in a statement.

One major hang-up involved CP-owned property, including a rail yard near Bensenville. The tollway wanted the property for bridges supporting the future I-490.

CP executives argued the project would severely limit its operations and sued in 2015, but the action was dismissed. Now, some CP tracks will be relocated south of the yard.

The new toll road also will cross UP's tracks at several locations, including the future access to O'Hare and the interchange with I-294.

This is the first time a Democratic governor and a Democratic congressional delegation in the metro area have converged to pressure the two powerful railroads, although it isn't clear what broke the logjam.

"Completing western access is a top priority for my constituents because of the thousands of jobs, increased tax revenue, and reduced traffic it will create for our region," said U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Schaumburg.

The deal gives the tollway property rights that enable other projects like Cook County's planned improvements to Touhy Avenue, which include replacement of the at-grade crossing at the Union Pacific Railroad with a new bridge that will improve access to the north side of O'Hare, officials said.

Tollway, railway sparring over western bypass

Tollway poised to open new stretch of Route 390 this fall

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

O'Hare ring road deal coming soon between tollway and railroads

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