Tolls forecast for scaled-back Elgin-O'Hare expansion
Extending the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway and building a western bypass around the airport won't happen without tolls, state plans indicate.
The Illinois Department of Transportation also intends to scale back the $3.6 billion project by $1.4 billion until more funding surfaces.
But even turning the current and future Elgin-O'Hare Expressway and possibly the bypass into tollways won't cover all the costs. And one idea to help finance the plan with local taxes is causing concerns for some mayors.
IDOT will hold a public meeting today to get reaction to its latest plan to extend the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway east from Itasca and build a western bypass. The bypass would be on the airport's west side, connecting with the Elgin-O'Hare, I-90 to the north and I-294 to the south.
Four funding proposals include tolling the existing expressway, extension and bypass; tolling the existing expressway and extension; tolling the existing expressway, extension and north leg of the bypass; and tolling the existing expressway, extension and south leg of the bypass.
Illinois State Toll Highway Authority Executive Director Kristi Lafleur said the agency was exploring every revenue option along with IDOT.
"We are still early on in the process of determining how we can make the Elgin-O'Hare West Bypass a reality," Lafleur said via e-mail.
"We already know that multiple sources of funding will be needed to make this project financially viable. We still have a lot of work ahead of us."
With Illinois in an ongoing revenue crisis and no action on a long-awaited federal transportation funding bill, tolling makes sense, officials said. Preliminary estimates indicate that toll revenues from the new construction could allow the tollway to borrow up to $1.25 billion.
State engineers also recommend constructing the extension and bypass with two lanes in each direction instead of three as originally intended for an initial cost of $2.2 billion.
"Given the challenges of funding, we looked for a way to reduce costs while still providing for a complete project," IDOT project manager Peter Harmet said.
As revenues materialize, so will the additional lanes. Public transit, with rail or express buses in the median of the extension and north leg of the bypass, also was included in the $3.6 billion plan. Under the $2.2 billion option, express buses using the shoulder of the highway are proposed and space will be set aside in the medians for future transit.
The state is still considering options to make up the funding gap. One alternative that would involve creating a special taxing area for businesses and industries within 1.5 miles of the project is raising questions in affected communities, including Schaumburg, Itasca, Elk Grove Village, Hanover Park, Roselle and Wood Dale, whose leaders wrote IDOT and the tollway expressing concerns.
"It could be unduly burdensome," Schaumburg Village President Al Larson said.
"It would be counterproductive to economic development," Wood Dale Mayor Ken Johnson said.
Hanover Park Village President Rod Craig also called the idea "frightening" but hoped the group letter would nip the special tax area in the bud.
The taxing area is just one among several financing ideas planners are mulling over, including low-interest federal government loans, Harmet said.
"The idea is to look at as many financing strategies as possible," Harmet noted.
The meeting runs from 4 to 8 p.m. today at the Holiday Inn Itasca, 860 W. Irving Park Road.