Jim Tobin, President of Taxpayers United for America, was quoted in the Chicago Tribune on turning the Elgin-O’Hare into a tollway.
The decision will give the Illinois Tollway the authority to include the 20-year-old highway in its Elgin-O’Hare Western Access Project, according to officials in Washington, D.C., and Illinois.
The $3.4 billion project calls for building a tollway running along the western border of O’Hare International Airport. The tollway will link the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90) and the Tri-State Tollway (I-294).
This “bypass” tollway will connect with the existing Elgin-O’Hare Expressway, which will be widened and extended east along Thorndale Avenue. The decision by the U.S. Transportation Department allows tolls to be charged.
In addition to federal approval, the tollway agency said it also needs approval from the state and is working on a General Assembly joint resolution to include the Elgin-O’Hare plan.
The U.S. has the authority to make the Elgin-O’Hare eligible to be a tollway under terms of the transportation bill that President Barack Obama signed into law in July, said a spokesman for Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
“I am pleased that we found a solution, so that when built, this project can provide mobility for the people of Illinois for generations to come,” LaHood said in a statement.
The decision was hailed by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Tammy Duckworth, who represents the area, as well as Gov. Pat Quinn and tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur.
The 12.5-mile Elgin-O’Hare was built in 1993 for $220 million. Despite its name, it connects neither Elgin nor O’Hare. It runs between U.S. Highway 20 (Lake Street) near Hanover Park and Interstate 290 in Itasca.
Backed by an advisory council’s report, Quinn in 2011 called for the project to be built to help stimulate the regional economy and potentially create thousands of jobs. At Quinn’s urging, the tollway authority later adopted the project.
But the move to turn the expressway into a toll road has stirred some critics.
James Tobin, president of Taxpayers United of America, called the plan an example of “empire-building” on the part of tollway officials.
“The road already exists as freeway,” Tobin said. “The tollway was set up to build new roads. … It’s a new revenue source and allows them to line their pockets, get pay raises and retire in pension glory.”
Tobin’s group took the tollway to court last year in an unsuccessful challenge of the near-doubling of tolls to pay for the agency’s $12.1 billion rebuilding program, called Move Illinois. The Elgin-O’Hare project is the centerpiece of that effort.
The new Elgin-O’Hare is expected to take 12 years to complete. To begin work, the tollway plans to spend $95.6 million this year. Potential construction includes noise walls along the existing Elgin-O’Hare, a Rohlwing Road (Illinois Route 53) grade separation and the construction of a new bridge to carry southbound Elmhurst Road traffic over I-90.
As part of the project, the tollway plans to build a $30 million ramp via York Road to access O’Hare property.
There are, however, no plans to construct a western terminal, as once hoped, because of the lack of an agreement between the city of Chicago and the major airlines at O’Hare, led by United and American.
The tollway authority, meanwhile, announced that 10 financial firms will be the underwriters for the first $1 billion in bonds for Move Illinois. An additional 10 firms will underwrite $500 million in refinanced existing debt.
The underwriting fee will not exceed $2.50 per $1,000 worth of bonds, tollway finance chief Michael Colsch said.
Tollway officials also announced Thursday a proposal to give motorists a total of three months instead of two to respond to toll violation notices.
Officials said the plan would be fairer to customers and is in line with toll agencies in other states. The proposal will need further approval, however.
The tollway board also approved a $1 million contract with Gilbane Building Co., of Chicago, to review construction practices and work that has been performed, officials said.