All systems go on I-490, the toll road that could change O'Hare access and suburban driving
Once mired in turf battles and funding uncertainly, a game-changing toll road on O'Hare International Airport's west side enters a milestone construction season with its future on solid ground.
In May 2020, Illinois tollway directors resolved a lengthy land dispute with the Canadian Pacific and Union Pacific railroads over the location of I-490. The ring road on O'Hare's western flank will link to I-90 on the north, I-294 on the south, and the as-yet-uncompleted Route 390 in the center.
The project also will provide connections into the airport, the suburbs' long-desired western access, although the date when passengers can catch flights from the backdoor entrance is far off.
"Work is occurring all along the I-490 corridor this year, with much of the construction focused around the interchanges that will connect the new road with the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90), the Route 390 tollway and the Tri-State Tollway (I-294)," agency spokesman Dan Rozek said.
One significant focus in 2021 is the $340 million full-access interchange between I-490 and Route 390 that also provides access to York and Irving Park roads and O'Hare.
The project entails a 3-mile stretch of I-490 plus 16 ramps and 15 bridges "that will deliver full mobility into and out of the west side of the airport," Rozek said.
This year workers will "begin constructing a new bridge that will carry a portion of the outbound ramp from O'Hare Airport to westbound Route 390 over two other future ramps that will connect I-490 to Route 390. All of this construction will occur west of York Road," he noted.
Last year, the extension of Route 390, formerly the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway, continued east along Thorndale Avenue from its Route 83 terminus.
The massive Route 390 and I-490 interchange should be built by the end of 2023. Additional ramps taking vehicles from I-490 to the airport will be finished by 2025.
What will be waiting when the western entrance to O'Hare is opened? The Chicago Department of Aviation had previously announced the first stage will be a parking lot for airline employees and a related building for security screening, and the agency is still committed to that, officials said.
Former department Commissioner Ginger Evans told the Daily Herald in 2018 that future services for passengers and a western terminal could happen based on market demand.
On Friday, the department said its priorities are current building projects like expanding Terminal 5, a new Global Terminal and two satellite concourses on the west side of O'Hare.
"The city is focused on progressing with the planning, design, and implementation of these critical infrastructure projects," the department said.
Suburban leaders have long sought a western terminal and the subsequent boom from hotels, restaurants and businesses, but the COVID-19 pandemic decimated passenger travel by 63.5% in 2020. However, cargo handled at O'Hare grew by about 14.8%.
This is a moment when I-490/Route 390 dovetails with the growing freight and cargo industry, said Greg Bedalov, CEO of Choose DuPage and a former tollway executive director.
"There's 127 square miles of land that borders Route 390 and goes into I-490, and that land is prime land for development," Bedalov said.
"Transportation distribution and logistics is probably the fastest growing market segment in DuPage County simply because that's the way economics are going with e-commerce. I'm very confident the market will call for more transportation, distribution and logistics warehouses throughout that corridor."
For suburbanites trying to get around, I-490 will offer a needed alternative.
For example, a Schaumburg resident wanting to travel south on the Tri-State could take I-90 to I-490 in Des Plaines, go south on I-490, then merge onto the Tri-State in Franklin Park. That could be a lot faster at rush hour than using I-290 or continuing on I-90 to reach the Tri-State, but it will cost more since tolls on I-490 are about 20 cents a mile compared to the average 6 cents elsewhere.
IDOT is scheduling late and overnight lane closures with some full traffic stops on the Kennedy Expressway at Montrose Avenue starting Friday through the morning of March 29. Crews are rebuilding the Montrose bridge.
Learn about plans for Darrell Road in Wauconda Township during a virtual public meeting at 5 p.m. March 31. To register, contact the Lake County Division of Transportation at lakecountyil.gov/3402/Darrell-Rd.