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O'Hare bypass likely to increase Illinois tolls

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A plan to add an extension to the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway on the western side of the airport may cost tollway drivers more across the state.

Governor Pat Quinn wants the extension, which would be built where homes were torn down as part of the O'Hare Airport expansion project. That extension would build a ring road around the airport.

"We're gonna work together and collaboratively we're gonna build this road," Gov. Quinn said. On Thursday, the governor accepted a report from an advisory council whose members have long championed a western O'Hare bypass as the best way to ease congestion and spur economic development.

The 17 miles of new highway would connect Interstate 90 on the north side of O'Hare Airport with the Tri-State Tollway on the south. It would extend the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway into a western airport entry. The cost: $3.5 billion. Who pays?

"That's sort of the last big issue, and it's a big issue," Bob Schillerstrom said. Schillerstrom is the former chairman of the DuPage County Board.

The recommendation is that the by-pass would be a toll road and that the best funding options, public/private partnerships, would still require a hike in tolls throughout the state's system.

"Given the magnitude of this project - what it would cost to build - given the benefit, the economic benefit, which is huge, I think we acknowledge that it's not going to happen without a toll increase to pay for at least a portion of this," Dan Cronin, DuPage County Board chairman.

A variety of models determine how much tolls would go up and, if the plan moves forward, public hearings would be held before a decision is made. But toll hikes might not be enough.

"There's a significant gap. There's still work to be done on how we come up with funding necessary to build this project," Kristi Lafleur, executive director, Illinois Toll Highway Authority.

The commitment to build the O'Hare bypass is only as good as the money available. More than once Thursday, members of the advisory council- who are largely suburban elected officials- said they needed to get creative on funding the project.

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