Here are this year's suburban road construction hot spots
The Illinois tollway is flush with cash but lacks an executive director. The Illinois Department of Transportation has an experienced engineer in charge, but its funds are drying up.
And in Springfield, a new governor is setting transportation priorities while legislators talk of a capital bill and a gas tax hike.
There are few sure bets about politics, but one thing's definite -- IDOT and the tollway are unleashing a mother lode of cement trucks and bulldozers this month as construction season kicks off even as long-term transportation priorities remain in flux.
Major hot spots to avoid include the Central Tri-State Tollway (I-294) widening south of Rosemont, the Veterans Tollway (I-355) rebuild near Glen Ellyn, the never-ending Jane Byrne Interchange redo in Chicago, and the game-changing work on Route 390 and I-490 on O'Hare International Airport's west side.
Although the tollway typically keeps all lanes open during construction, drivers should expect delays, particularly during rush hour, and plan accordingly, officials said.
That strategy "will reduce a lot of your stress," tollway Chief Engineer Paul Kovacs said. "Unexpected slowdowns, trucks potentially entering and exiting the system does cause friction. I hope everyone can be patient."
This year the tollway will continue a push east on Route 390 (formerly the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway) between Route 83 and York Road in Bensenville. Ultimately, that means "providing actual western access to O'Hare," Kovacs said.
Another project that's "exciting" but challenging for engineers kicks off with construction of a replacement for the Mile Long Bridge on the Tri-State Tollway near Willow Springs. About 220,000 vehicles use the Central Tri-State daily.
Meanwhile, IDOT is halfway through fixing the spaghetti-like tangle of the Jane Byrne Interchange where the Kennedy, Eisenhower and Dan Ryan expressways converge. Work started in 2013, and in 2019 engineers expect to finish the I-290 segment along with bridges at Monroe and VanBuren streets.
With shrinking gas taxes, IDOT is limited in its capacity to undertake new projects, but that could change with Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who in February appointed deputy secretary Omer Osman as agency chief.
Pritzker "believes infrastructure needs in Illinois have been neglected for too long," spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said. "The administration is working with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle along with stakeholders from around the state to pass a comprehensive capital plan that will bring Illinois' infrastructure into the 21st century."
To pay for it, lawmakers are floating bills to increase the gas tax of 19 cents per gallon by 15 cents, a plan backed by the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.
Income tax shift first
One of the biggest complaints DuPage County Chairman Dan Cronin hears from residents concerns state roads dotted with potholes.
"The need (for a capital program) is well-documented, not only for roads and bridges but public transit also. ... It's a mess," Cronin said.
The former Republican state senator has spoken with Pritzker and Senate President John Cullerton and thinks a capital bill is coming, but it won't happen until the General Assembly votes on revising the state income tax.
Although there's bipartisan support for infrastructure, it's unclear whether suburban Republicans will buy into a gas tax hike.
"I'm not going to make a commitment" yet, Cronin said. "I've got to see what's in it for DuPage."
Tale of two counties
Pritzker's newly appointed tollway board held its first meeting in March, and an executive director has yet to be named.
That leaves the most controversial road project in the region -- extending Route 53 north -- in limbo. Lake County is split on whether the extension is a job-creating traffic fixer or a polluting boondoggle.
Pritzker's been silent on the project, but "our board is going to do a complete and thorough review of all the tollway priorities including (Route 53) ... to give us some direction on what's going to happen with that project," tollway Chief Planner Rocco Zucchero told Lake County representatives said at an April 3 meeting.
Meanwhile, Kane County is building a new highway with a combination of state, federal and tollway aid. The hybrid Longmeadow Parkway in Carpentersville and Algonquin has one toll bridge over the Fox River, but it's not a toll road.
"The rest of the corridor is free and open to traffic," Assistant Transportation Director Steve Coffinbarger said.
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