Is Elgin-O'Hare extension caught in political roadblock?

  • Construction of the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway extension could be impeded by politics.

    Construction of the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway extension could be impeded by politics. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer, March 2015

Posted1/14/2016 5:10 AM

A divide between the Illinois tollway and Chicago on the cost of airport land needed for the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway extension is threatening progress on the massive project, considered vital for the suburbs.

An agreement to sell property on the western edge of O'Hare to the tollway at market value more than a decade ago has disintegrated, officials said, and the city's latest price tag of about $190 million is giving the tollway sticker-shock.


"We've been negotiating for a long time. ... It's within the last couple of months I've realized how far apart we were," tollway Chairman Robert Schillerstrom said.

"This road is important to the region," he said. "It's important to the city of Chicago, important to the airport and users of the toll system. We're anxious to get done."

Chicago officials said they could not discuss ongoing negotiations.

DuPage County Chairman Dan Cronin, a former senator who helped forge a deal on O'Hare expansion between the suburbs and city under former Mayor Richard M. Daley, thinks Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration is "moving the goal posts" for political reasons.

"All of a sudden, they've put a high price tag on it," Cronin said, characterizing the cost hike as a Chicago ploy to coerce GOP leaders in DuPage County into urging fellow Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner to aid Emanuel on certain issues.

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"It's gamesmanship."

Schillerstrom could not offer specific figures, such as the estimated fair market value for the airport land, but he said the gap between Chicago and the tollway's numbers "is way, way too big and time is of the essence."

The tollway is extending the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway (Route 390) east to the airport. Route 390 would hook up with a ring road on the western edge of O'Hare that connects to the Tri-State Tollway near Franklin Park and the Jane Addams Tollway near Des Plaines.

The tollway has already completed improvements to the existing part of the expressway between Hanover Park and Itasca and plans to finish a section east to Route 83 in late 2017.

The project is expected to ease congestion and spur economic development west of O'Hare. Schillerstrom, a former DuPage County chairman, was among its strongest proponents.


"It's an important part of the transportation network of the region," he said Wednesday.

But, "the (city's) position we're encountering now is different from the one we contemplated 10 to 12 years ago, when DuPage County sat down and cooperated with the city," he said.

"We're looking at more money than is budgeted and more money than we think is fair. We want the city to have the same sense of urgency and fairness to get this project done. We're marching east."

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