Where to look out for spring road construction
They're back: Bulldozers. Front-end loaders. Excavators. Cement trucks.
Construction season 2016 is upon us, and it's a significant year for many reasons.
For long-suffering drivers on the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90), the ordeal is nearly over. The widening and rebuild of I-90 has been an epic pain in the bumper, but the final segment from Elgin to the Tri-State should wrap up by December.
When it's done, the project will include an extra lane in each direction and a new bridge over the Fox River.
That's not the only Illinois tollway project to watch out for.
"We're marching east," tollway Chairman Bob Schillerstrom said of the Elgin-O'Hare extension to O'Hare International Airport.
The tollway has prioritized improving the existing expressway from Lake Street to I-290, but 2016's focus will be on building the new road east to Route 83 at the Wood Dale/Bensenville border.
Progress has its price, however. Tolls of 20 cents a mile begin on the Elgin-O'Hare between Lake Street and I-290 July 5.
Meanwhile, the Illinois Department of Transportation -- which lacks the power to raise revenues at the flick of a switch -- continues reconstruction of the Jane Byrne Interchange, where the Dan Ryan, Kennedy and Eisenhower expressways converge.
Those three highway improvements will irritate the most drivers this year. But just because a project doesn't cost billions doesn't mean it won't raise your blood pressure.
Some lower-budget but still stressful hot spots in 2016 include reconstruction at Highland Avenue and Butterfield Road in Lombard, Washington Street improvements in Grayslake, upgrades to Dundee Road in Arlington Heights and fixes to Route 31 in St. Charles.
When I-90 wraps up, the tollway will offer four lanes in each direction between Elgin and the Kennedy Expressway. In contrast, the state still lacks funding to forge ahead with plans to fix the bottleneck where the Kennedy, I-90, the Tri-State Tollway and I-190 converge.
Schillerstrom called tolls or user-pay systems "the future of how projects are going to be built and capacity added," in an interview last week.
It's a relevant point given the state's budget impasse, the lack of a capital program since the last one expired in 2014 and dwindling revenues from gas taxes.
Cook and DuPage county officials also point out that the state temporarily postponed disbursing gas taxes for nearly half a year in 2015. That threw a wrench in some roadwork that should have started this summer.
"The uncertainty of funding created anxiety and delayed projects," said Cook County Department of Highways and Transportation Superintendent John Yonan, who fears a repeat. "Come July ... we may be in that same boat."
In Kane County, work is starting on Longmeadow Parkway, a $135 million, 5.6-mile, four-lane road. The project in northern Kane is funded by federal, state and county revenues -- plus a tolled bridge over the Fox River.
Despite the momentum, the Longmeadow Parkway project is not a public slam dunk. The road will bisect the Brunner Forest Preserve and is close to upscale neighborhoods, which is still fueling opposition.
"It's the first section of a huge project that's over 20 years in the making," Kane County Assistant Director of Transportation Steve Coffinbargar said.
One more thing
Last week, the Metropolitan Planning Council warned that Illinois needs $43 billion to repair decrepit roads and bridges. "It's a very steep, downward trajectory," council Vice President Peter Skosey said.
The civic group called for a 30 cent-a-gallon gas tax increase and a 50 percent vehicle registration fee hike from $101 for passenger vehicles to $151.50.
Adding to the mix, Senate President John Cullerton last week pushed for a tax per miles traveled to recoup lost revenues from electric and hybrid cars.
Got an opinion on roadwork or how to pay for it? Drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jon E. Guiney of Elgin is chagrined at the tollway's reference to the 45 mph work zone speed in last week's column.
"What world do the people who operate the tollway authority live in?" Guiney said. "In my world, virtually no one follows that speed limit. And no one worries about getting cited for it because there is virtually no speed enforcement going on.
And while I'm on the subject, that bizarre merge from three lanes to two westbound at the Route 53/I-290 exit is dangerous and poorly marked. This construction setup does scare me, and I've never feared being behind the wheel in the 44 years I've been driving."
You should know
Sorry, Bensenville. The village lost its Metra ticket agent to Glenview last week. Not enough tickets were being sold in Bensenville to justify the expense, officials said. While Bensenville had 294 weekday morning passengers, Glenview serves 1,124 weekday morning riders. The move comes as Amtrak closes its ticket office at Glenview. Bensenville riders can buy one-way tickets on the train without paying fees. Both towns are on the Milwaukee North Line.
Pace reminds riders you can focus on the lineup and not traffic with several express buses serving Wrigley Field and U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago. Sox fans can catch Bus Route 775 from Bolingbrook at Route 53 and Old Chicago Drive or in Burr Ridge at the Pace Park-n-Ride. Cubs fans can take Route 282 from the Northwest Transportation Center in Schaumburg or Route 779 from Yorktown Shopping Center in Lombard.