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Longtime O'Hare expansion foe ends fight after state drops Busse plan
By Marni Pyke | Daily Herald Staff

Elk Grove Mayor Craig Johnson announces that the use of Route 83 as been eliminated from all proposals for the Elgin-O'Hare West Bypass and that the city is dropping all suits fighting the O'Hare modernization plan.

 

Mark Black | Staff Photographer

Elk Grove Mayor Craig Johnson Thursday.

 

Mark Black | Staff Photographer

Elk Grove Mayor Craig Johnson Thursday.

 

Mark Black | Staff Photographer

Elk Grove Mayor Craig Johnson Thursday.

 

Mark Black | Staff Photographer

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Published: 4/23/2009 11:08 AM | Updated: 4/23/2009 10:41 PM

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Forty years after its fight against O'Hare expansion began, Elk Grove Village stepped out of the ring Thursday.

The historic decision was triggered by the Illinois Department of Transportation's announcement that it had narrowed the proposals for a western bypass around O'Hare International Airport - thereby eliminating Elk Grove Village's main objection to an expansion project there.

"The cloud over our community for the last 40 years has been removed," Mayor Craig Johnson said. Elk Grove has spent about $7 million since 2001 in legal battles opposing the O'Hare project.

Although the funding is uncertain and the concrete won't be poured for years, the state's move also created a buzz about the potential for economic development that could be sparked by a related IDOT plan to extend the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway.

The state is planning to extend the Elgin-O'Hare east from Itasca into the airport and build a connected bypass that links I-294 and I-90.

Elk Grove Village leaders had protested one state plan that would bring the north segment of the bypass along a widened Route 83, saying it would destroy their business park.

Just hours before IDOT officially said it was dropping the Route 83 idea, Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson announced a halt to the town's legal fight against the O'Hare project.

IDOT's latest road plan includes two alternatives for the north end that links with I-90: building the bypass on airport property or widening York Road. For the south connection with I-294, the choices are building an elevated expressway west of County Line Road in Bensenville, or a similar expressway just east of the Union Pacific Railway tracks in Franklin Park.

All four proposals would involve having to condemn properties.

Both the York and County Line road options have drawn fire from Bensenville, which now finds itself alone among villages opposing the airport expansion. The village has fought the project tooth and nail, and the two IDOT plans would take substantial property in the village.

But the political landscape has changed in Bensenville with the election of a new village president, Frank Soto, who has said he is willing to negotiate with the city of Chicago.

Soto said Thursday he is concerned about the County Line Road plan because Bensenville already stands to lose about 600 properties with O'Hare expansion.

IDOT engineer Pete Harmet said the agency took into consideration cost, environmental impact, travel performance and impact on communities in choosing the latest options.

The state's next move is to prepare a draft environmental impact statement that the public can comment on. The report is expected to be released in the fall. A decision could occur late this year or in early 2010. Estimates for the bypass exceed $1 billion.

The sense that there finally was movement on the long moribund extension of the Elgin-O'Hare excited a number of civic leaders at an transportation department forum Thursday.

"Itasca has always been a supporter of the potential for western access (into O'Hare) and the opportunities for economic development," Itasca Village Administrator Dave Williams said.

Wood Dale Mayor Ken Johnson said stretching the expressway eastward would "be an economic shot in the arm. It's an opportunity to be Rosemont west."

Soto, in a separate interview, echoed hopes the Elgin-O'Hare extension would be a boon, noting it could benefit Bensenville's industrial park, which "has been neglected for years."

Craig Johnson said that 38,000 comment cards village residents submitted to IDOT opposing the Route 83 plan were effective.

Now, the state had "given us a chance to put the roadway in a location we can support and work with," he said. "It will be good, not only for the community, but the entire region."

Johnson also said the Route 83 plan would have cost Elk Grove Village hundreds of businesses, thousands of jobs and millions of tax dollars because so many properties would have been taken.

But Mitch Gora, an Elk Grove Village trustee candidate who lost by a substantial margin to the three incumbents on April 7, has been a longtime critic of Johnson and village's decision to continue fighting the O'Hare expansion.

"I think it's suspicious that it comes out after the election, especially when (Johnson) kept ripping me that the fight must go on," Gora said. "In the 2007 election I said that I would have stopped money toward it already."

• Daily Herald staff writer Madhu Krishnamurthy contributed to this report.