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A ‘Back Door’ To O’Hare Airport Is Coming After City Council Approves New West Tollway

The tollway will make it faster to get to the airport from the suburbs and reduce overcrowding on existing roads by more than 20 percent, an alderman said Wednesday.

O'Hare International Airport
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O’HARE — A tollway will be built along the west edge of O’Hare Airport, making it faster to get to the airport from the suburbs.

City Council on Wednesday approved a land deal with the Illinois Tollway Authority, making way for the I-490 tollway, which will connect with the I-90 Jane Addams Tollway to the north and the I-294 Tri-State Tollway to the south. The tollway, which has been decades in the making, will create a feeder for the I-390 highway to open more direct access to the airport from western suburbs, including Itasca and Elk Grove Village.

The move is part of the Elgin O’Hare Western Access Project, which is projected to complete a ring of highways around the 7,200-acre international airport by 2026.

Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th), who chairs the City Council Committee on Aviation, said Wednesday the new O’Hare expressway will reduce traffic congestion on existing roadways by 20 percent, increase freight activity and create more jobs.

“This is huge for our city and our metro region,” O’Shea said. “The start of this project … will create more than 50,000 jobs. This will save overcrowding on our highway and local roads by more than 20 percent.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Ald. Matthew O’Shea (19th) looks on at a City Council meeting on March 23, 2022.

The ordinance, which was unanimously advanced by the aviation committee earlier this week, was proposed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot last month and will transfer about 202 acres of city-owned land along the west edge of the airport to the Illinois Tollway. The tollway will pay the city about $107.8 million for the land in four installments, a payment the city may only spend on airport infrastructure.  

“This project is of regional and national significance, and it has been recognized by the federal government as such,” Chicago Department of Aviation Commissioner Jamie Rhee told committee members Monday. “It is going to provide many, many benefits. Aside from the contracting opportunities and employment opportunities, it will also create a back door to O’Hare.”  

The ordinance amends the intergovernmental agreement the city inked with the Illinois Tollway Authority in 2017 to reflect design changes engineers have since made to avoid interfering with runways and nearby railways, Rhee said. The new plan would orient the new highway to make it “adjacent to the existing alignment of Irving Park Road along the southeast corner of the airport,” she said.  

She also pitched the project as a tool to ease traffic jams around the airport.  

“Those individuals that are just merely trying to bypass O’Hare and just get onto that southern leg of 294 will now have an alternate where they can go to the west side, instead of clogging our entrance, which is one way in and one way out of O’Hare off I-190.” Rhee said.   

Illinois Tollway executive director Jose Alvarez said Monday that drivers would be charged about $0.20 per mile to use the new highway, “just like [in] the rest of our system.”

Ald. Nick Sposato (38th) called the price “a great deal.”  

O’Shea said the tollway’s expansion and benefits will help bring back activity to the city’s “biggest economic engine” after the pandemic’s hit to airport business.

O’Hare saw 30 million passengers in 2020, compared to 84 million in 2019, he said.

“We’ve got a lot to do and we need to do everything we can in this body to support promote and expand what we have going on at both our international airports,” he said.

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