Elgin-O'Hare Expressway tolls start today
It's the most awesome highway project ever, transforming how we drive in the suburbs.
It's a boondoggle people will boycott because of high tolls.
It's a trigger for an economic boom west of O'Hare.
It's a dead-end in an airport parking lot.
Plenty of contradictory expectations are at the ready as the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway/Route 390 morphs today from a freeway into a cashless toll road between Lake Street and I-290.
Illinois tollway executives promise a fast, reliable corridor they're confident drivers can't resist, despite tolls of 20 cents a mile compared to 6 cents elsewhere.
Yet, even with that high tab, Route 390 will never be a cash cow, constituting just 5 percent of tollway revenues at full build-out, documents show.
Meanwhile, commuters like Eileen Szubert of Bartlett vow to boycott the route. Her Plan B using Lake Street and other local roads will take 10 to 15 minutes longer to reach her Itasca workplace, but it will save $2.50 a day for a round trip.
"I'm still sticking to my guns and not planning on supporting Route 390 when tolls go live," Szubert declared. "I don't think I need to pay $1.25 one way to work when there are free alternatives."
Tollway leaders are banking on the public's need for speed to retain the current volume of 75,000 cars daily.
"It's a new day for the tollway," Executive Director Greg Bedalov said, describing Route 390 as "cost-saving, convenient, safe and better for the environment. We're anxious to get the road open and continue east to O'Hare."
Driver Mohammed Khan of Schaumburg swears he will never set tires on Route 390.
"It's a shame because this will crowd regular roads and cause more problems for people like me that live right in the area. This will be such an inconvenience, and everyone is also frustrated at these new tolls," Khan said.
Bedalov acknowledged the transition is a "heavy lift," saying, "I hope they continue to use it; clearly we don't want to force traffic onto side roads and arterials."
Improvements drivers get in exchange for tolls include new ramps linking to I-290 and a seamless drive without the tedium of stoplights, he pointed out.
The toll road will extend along Thorndale Avenue and reach Route 83 in 2017, then break into O'Hare by 2019 or so with a somewhat nebulous new entrance at the airport's west side.
In 2025, Route 390 will connect with a bypass road on the west side of O'Hare linking to the Tri-State Tollway in Franklin Park and Jane Addams Tollway in Des Plaines
"We're hoping it's going to be the economic engine that spurs development west of the airport," Bedalov said.
How popular will the new kid be?
A review of agency projections shows Route 390 will constitute 4 percent of toll transactions in 2017 compared to 41 percent for the system's workhorse, the Tri-State. After the road reaches O'Hare, usage is projected to grow to 11 percent of all transactions in 2021, then up to 15 percent around 2026 at full build-out.
The Tri-State's share of transactions is projected to dip to 36 percent by 2026, shrinkage that troubles former tollway Director and investment banker Bill Morris.
"If people currently using (the Tri-State) use the new tollway, really it's just moving the dollars around, not creating new customers," said Morris, a former state senator from Grayslake.
Shifting to profits, Route 390 will provide a measly 1.6 percent of all toll revenues in 2017. That number is expected to climb to 3 percent in 2021 and top out at 5 percent by 2026, estimates indicate. In contrast, the Tri-State is expected to generate 45 percent of all tolls in 2017 and 43 percent by 2026.
The Route 390 project costs $3.4 billion, with DuPage County throwing in $300 million.
"The numbers verify Route 390 is incapable, based on the tollway's own projections, of paying its operational costs and the cost of debt," Morris said.
The tollway did not provide operating costs for Route 390, saying it didn't break those numbers out.
"Will it pay for itself? It's too soon to tell. Route 390 isn't even done yet," Bedalov said.
Got an opinion on Route 390? Of course you do. Drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You should know
• Don't forget Route 390 is cashless, meaning no collection booths or buckets, so people without I-PASS transponders will need to pay online within 30 days or face fines. The 30-day grace period reverts to seven days on July 30.
• The cash rate to travel 6.5 miles from Lake Street to I-290 on the all-electronic road is $2.50, compared to $1.25 for people with transponders. Truck rates are higher.
And now, since state-budget Armageddon has been postponed at least for a while, there's roadwork news to share.
• Avoid Williams Street at Irving Park Road in Roselle Wednesday through Friday when IDOT closes the road to fix drains.
• Headed to Joliet? Cass Street over the Des Plaines River will close Tuesday until the fall for bridge painting.
NTSB eyes 'bomb' trains
The National Transportation Safety Board will hold an all-day roundtable July 13 about transporting flammable liquids, like ethanol, by rail. Topics include building stronger tank cars, which is on the NTSB's "Most Wanted" list of 2016. You can tune in on the agency's website, ntsb.gov.