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IDOT's road plan focuses on maintaining status quo
By Marni Pyke | Daily Herald Staff

The Elgin-O'Hare Expressway ends in Itasca without reaching the airport, but IDOT's new five-year capital plan will spend money on engineering, land acquisition and some construction on the eastern section.

 

Mark Black | Staff Photographer

Drivers on the Elgin O'Hare Expressway have a short commute without reaching either terminus. The state is allocating $159 million on engineering, land acquisition and some construction for the segment that eventually will go to O'Hare.

 

Mark Black | Staff Photographer

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Published: 5/20/2009 12:11 PM | Updated: 5/20/2009 7:38 PM

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The state's new $11.25 billion five-year road work program is long on maintenance and short on major construction initiatives.

The Illinois Department of Transportation's priorities released Wednesday do include a few big-time projects like engineering and construction work on the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway east extension as well as a new bridge over the Mississippi River in St. Louis.

But if you're looking for the expressway to actually reach O'Hare or significant dollars for congestion relief, it will have to come from the General Assembly passing a capital bill, state Transportation Secretary Gary Hannig emphasized.

"We all concede we need to do more. But we're hopeful and optimistic can we get a capital bill that will address some of these problems," Hannig said.

On Wednesday, the state Senate approved a plan to expand gambling to generate extra cash to pay for a capital program. The House may vote on the measure today.

The $11.25 billion plan unveiled Wednesday includes $7.5 billion in federal funding, $3 billion from the state and $700 million from local governments. The lion's share goes to maintenance items - resurfacing, reconstruction and widening of roads, including the Kennedy Expressway and the Eisenhower Expressway as well as local arterials.

IDOT plans to spend $159 million for engineering, land acquisition and construction of the eastern end of the Elgin O'Hare Expressway in the next five years. The plan also includes building a western bypass around the airport connecting with the Elgin O'Hare and running between 1-90 to the north and I-294 to the south. The entire project, however, could cost up to $3.6 billion.

"Obviously, we need much more (money)," Hannig said, "but we can't do it with a maintenance budget."

DuPage County Director of Transportation and Operations John Kos was "happy to see they're spending quite a bit of dollars in DuPage County."

But he noted that major projects, such as widening Route 64 near West Chicago, have been on the books for years.

"We're grateful for the money, but we're anxious and looking to the future for more dollars to be spent on capacity and congestion relief," Kos said.

The state's plan did not identify money for two significant suburban projects - extending Route 53 north of Lake Cook Road and the Prairie Parkway, which would stretch from I-88 to I-80 in Kane, Kendall and Grundy counties.

Concerning the Prairie Parkway, Hannig noted that "it is a growing area and there's a lot of congestion. There needs to be some solution to the problem."

But because of litigation and lack of a local consensus, IDOT is holding back on funding.

As for the Route 53 extension, there's no funding right now, Hannig said.

That answer didn't disturb Lake County Board member David Stolman, who said he understood lawmakers will allocate about $15 million toward Route 53, probably in the capital budget. County voters recently backed the project in an advisory referendum.

"Clearly it's a situation that needs to be addressed," Stolman said. "If not today - when?"

IDOT also budgeted $38 million for a railroad crossing safety program, although officials recognized that with grade separations costing $50 million and more - it was a minimal amount.

Crossing safety is a hot issue in the region with CN's recent merger with the EJ&E Railway. The Canadian National Railway is putting more freights on the EJ&E, which runs from Waukegan to Gary, Ind.

Barrington Mayor Karen Darch, who opposed the merger, said it's crucial the state get its act together to subsidize underpasses along the EJ&E in Aurora and south suburban Lynwood. Federal regulators ordered CN to pay for the majority of underpass costs at those two locations because of safety concerns.

"At a minimum, these should be on IDOT's radar," Darch said.

Hannig also acknowledged that the state's motor fuel tax, which helps pay for roads, is vulnerable because of shifts in how much gas people buy as the price rises and falls.

"We're limited by the dollars available to us at this time," he said.

Road work ahead

Here's a look at some big-ticket items from IDOT's 2010-2015 highway improvement program.

State highways

•Bridge replacement and improvements at I-90 and Cumberland Avenue for $18.5 million.

• Resurfacing on 7 miles of I-290/Route 53 between Rand and Higgins roads for $27.1 million

• Resurfacing on 13.5 miles of I-290 between I-88 and the Kennedy Expressway for $45 million.

Cook County

• Reconstruction and intersection improvements on Milwaukee Avenue between Sanders Road and Euclid Avenue for $12 million.

• Reconstruction on Des Plaines River Road from Rand Road to Devon Avenue for $43 million.

• Widening and resurfacing on Wolf Road from Milwaukee Avenue to Palatine Road for $14 million.

• Bridge rehab on Congress Parkway over the Chicago River for $24.8 million.

DuPage County

• Adding lanes on Route 53 from the Elgin O'Hare Expressway to Army Trail Road for $52 million.

• Adding lanes and bridge rehab on Route 53 from North Avenue to St. Charles Road for $18 million.

• Adding lanes and bridge rebuilding on Butterfield Road from Route 59 to Winfield Road for $35 million.

• Adding lanes on North Avenue between Kautz Road and Route 59 for $43 million.

Kane County

• Reconstruction and widening of North Avenue from 7th Avenue to Dunham Road for $9 million.

Lake County

• Adding lanes on Route 22 from Quentin Road to Route 83 for $38.5 million.

• Bridge replacement on Half Day Road at I-94 for $15 million.

• Adding lanes on Route 22 from I-94 to the Skokie Highway for $15 million.

• Intersection improvements at Route 83 and Belvidere Road for $6.4 million.

McHenry County

• Adding lanes on Route 14 from West Lake Shore Drive to Crystal Lake Avenue for $64.6 million

• Intersection reconstruction at Route 31 and Route 176 for $23.6 million.