New route into O'Hare?; IDOT study is a 'fresh start' on an old idea

After languishing for years on transportation planners' wish list, efforts to build a western access route to O'Hare Airport are ramping up again.

The Illinois Department of Transportation is conducting a multiyear environmental and engineering study as a prelude to applying for federal funds to build a second entrance into O'Hare.

Past proposals have involved extending the Elgin-O'Hare Expy. farther east and creating a western bypass around the airport that would connect Interstate 90 to Interstate 294. Cost estimates for the earlier plans were more than $1 billion.

IDOT said the new study will be a "fresh start" on an old premise, shaped by talks with affected communities.

"We're approaching this with a totally open mind," IDOT spokesman Mike Claffey said.

DuPage County officials have been pushing for western access to O'Hare because it would spur economic development in the northwest suburbs and ease congestion on the Kennedy Expy. and Tri-State Tollway, they say.

Residents in Bensenville and other towns neighboring O'Hare say building a western access road would mean losing even more homes and businesses than are already slated to be demolished under the city's contentious O'Hare expansion project.

Claffey said the western access project is not tied to O'Hare expansion, but the City of Chicago has agreed to protect 300 feet of land on the west side of the airport to give the state the option of building a bypass road around a new passenger terminal planned for O'Hare.

The federal government earmarked $140 million for western access in the 2005 SAFETEA-LU transportation bill.

Additional funding sources, which have not yet been identified, are needed to make the project a reality.

For the next three years, IDOT, with the Federal Highway Administration, will do an environmental impact study to come up with a locally preferred plan on how and exactly where to build a western access route.

A three-year engineering study will follow.

In addition to looking at new roadways, IDOT and a team of consultants will examine improvements to existing roads and mass transit options west of the airport.

The entire study should be done by 2013, at which point IDOT can move forward with plans to apply for more federal funding.

The first of several public meetings on the western access project will take place Nov. 14 in Addison.

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