Illinois tollway drivers chumped by O'Hare Airport expansion.

Back when former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley promised to wave his magic wand and turn the 1950s-style O’Hare Airport into a 21st Century jewel,  Tri-State and other Illinois tollway drivers had no reason to pay much attention. Daley and his corporate, political, organized labor and do-gooder minions had assured everyone that expanding O’Hare wouldn’t cost drivers anything. Extending the inappropriately named Elgin-O’Hare expressway to the airport, feeding a new western terminal, and building an airport by-pass road would be no skin off the backs of tollway drivers.

Lo and behold, those assurances turned out to be a steaming pile of crap, just like about everything else that Daley promised in connection with the expansion.

We shouldn’t be surprised that Gov. Pat Quinn and public officials who have been lured on board this highway/airport hoax are breaking this “news” to us in stages. First, establish the need for the new highway, then create a commission that concludes that the only way to build it is to  raise the price for everyone using the region’s tollways. It took a year for the Quinn-appointed commission to “study” the “complexities” to reach this self-evident conclusion. The next step, after a year’s study, will finally tell everyone how high tolls will have to be raised , even if you don’t go near the airport or use the Elgin-O’Hare expressway.

I suppose one reason they can’t say is because they don’t know exactly how they’re going to build the blasted thing. That would be 17 miles of new highway, connecting with I-90 (Northwest Tollway) on the north and I-294 (Tri-State Tollway) on the south. Or they’re not saying because the reality of the project is that it can easily get out of hand.

A couple of major problems:

  • The northern by-pass will be built on airport property, which means tunneling under taxiways, highways and other facilities–an expensive proposition. At least we’re “promised” that it will be built on airport property; Daley had to do so get Elk Grove Village–the last of two major suburban opponents of the expansion–on board. Otherwise, the highway would have cut deep into the town’s tax-rich industrial park. If you want to see how this works, check out how I-285 burrows under a portion of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
  • The southern leg is a conundrum. Maps show that it will be cutting through the gigantic Bensenville railroad yards. Will that require expensive bridgework or tunneling? Or will some rail yards be lost, and if so, how will they be replaced. The southern leg connection with I-290 also is problematic. Will it have to go through another cemetery–this time a larger one? Will it take large amounts of industrial property? Answers still to come.
  • The benefits of the (lowball) $3-billion-plus work will be dependent on the construction of a new terminal on the western edge of the airport. The Elgin-O’Hare Expressway and the by-pass are supposed to provide direct access to the new terminal, but….(1) United and American airlines, which run about 80 percent of O’Hare’s business don’t want the new terminal. They don’t want the competition from the entrance of new airlines into the airport and the certainly don’t want to pay for any part of it. (2) New airlines are not clamoring for a western terminal because it’s too distant to provide feeder passengers to United and America that dominate the main terminal. Expansion advocates yammered about some kind of specialized bus service that would provide the connections, but have provided no details.

The bottom line is that pie-in-the-sky expansion and its allied highway and other projects have been doomed from the start. At first everything was to cost only $6 billion, until opponents, armed with the facts, made Chicago admit that it cost at least twice that. But not to worry, all those highways and allied projects wouldn’t cost taxpayers much, if anything, (As if the passenger facility charge and the dollars that the airlines build into the price of the tickets and federal airport assistance were not taxes.) Now we’re finding out that the $14 billion or $15 billion (at least) doesn’t include the new highway costs. And now,the airlines don’t want to pay for Phase Two of the airport expansion itself.

Former DuPage County Chariman Bob Schillerstrom who sold out to Daley by ending his opposition to airport expansion says that “who pays?”  for the highways is “sort of the last big issue.” No Bob, the last big issue, who is going to be gouged for all this crap?

And when will Chicago’s reporters, editors and producers catch on–having failed miserably to have listened to warnings of the coming problems?


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  • 1. What would be the big deal (at least land condemnation wise) is the supposed conversion of Thorndale Ave. into the missing part of the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway, between I-290 and the O'Hare loop tollway. However, you don't mention anything about that, just used the name a couple of times.

    2. This is a study, not the letting of contracts. With all the studies, I haven't seen the Franklin Street Connector (between the Chinatown stub and Wacker Drive), the L south of 95th, the Circle Line, the Crosstown Expressway, the Mid City L on the right of way of the Crosstown Expressway, the Monroe Street trolley, the JJJr. Abe Lincoln airport, the subway that was supposed to replace the Loop L, or much else built around here.

    3. Reportedly, this would be a toll road, and the only thing that may be inequitable is that the other users of the Tollway system will have to pay for it, like they did for I-88 west of Aurora and I-355 between I-88 and I-80. However, one chooses whether to use the Tollway, and I decided not to when they doubled the tolls for non-I-Pass users. Others can make a decision one way or the other. It isn't like Stroger or Quinn sticking their hands in my pocket to get an involuntary extraction.

    4. What may be a steaming pile of crap is that paragon of honesty, George Ryan, telling us that the tollways would eventually be free, if we just embraced his I-Pass plan, and whomever from the Concrete Association also telling us to do so.

    I think your view is too colored by having been retained by the former Bensenville authorities. After all, engineers got the Tri-State bridge over the same rail yard.

  • In reply to jack:

    Jack, you seem to have lost the forest through the trees on this. Look at the history of this expansion project. It all starts with "studies" that end up supporting the going position in City Hall. Amazing how that works. The question is, where is the city or state going to come up with the billions of dollars needed for this project (the overall expansion project, not just the Expressway). And since were talking about price tags, how much will it really cost? Do you really believe that the numbers won't skyrocket more than they already have? Regardless of whether Dennis works, or did work, for the Bensenville authorities has nothing to do with the fact that you, Jack, will be paying for all of it (tolls, higher taxes, etc). Enjoy! Glad I don't live in Illinois.

  • In reply to hawki1996:

    No, hawki, it is you who has lost the forest.

    The Tollway project is separate from the O'Hare expansion project. If it is a tollway project, only people who pay tolls fund it. If you read my post, I avoid the Tollway.

    As far as paying for the airport expansion project, itself, I pay for it only to the extent that federal transportation funds are allocated. Otherwise, it gets paid either thorough the passenger facility charge of $4.50 per takeoff added to tickets, or by the airlines themselves. In either of the latter cases, it is the users who pay, not the general taxpayers.

    Also, as indicated in my post, I am not going to have a bowel movement in my pants over studies.

    If you are really worried about your tax money, how about state tax money going into buying land for the Peotone, also called South of University Park, also called Abe Lincoln Airport.

    Hence, hawki, I am not impressed with your lack of analysis.

  • Jack, between bowel movements and steaming piles of crap, you seem to have developed a fetish.

    So I guess you won't be using O'Hare?

  • In reply to hawki1996:

    Steaming pile of crap was first used by Dennis. Read above.

    For that matter, I commented earlier that, for some unexplained reason, Eric Zorn was concerned about my irritable colon and Dennis about my blood pressure.

    Finally, I see that you never answered me on the merits. Somehow, you must think that Mayor Emanuel controls the Toll Highway Authority.

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