A new segment of Route 390 opened Wednesday, bringing better transportation connections, higher tolls and questions about what happens when the road eventually breaks into O'Hare International Airport.
The latest section of Route 390 stretches from I-290 in Itasca to Route 83 and should ease travel times for suburbanites by 25 percent, officials estimate.
"This is just the beginning. We are not done yet," Tollway Chairman Robert Schillerstrom said. He was referring to plans to link Route 390 into O'Hare's western side and provide parking, a building with ticketing, TSA screening and a people-mover taking passengers to terminals.
DuPage County leaders have long pushed for a western terminal at O'Hare, but United and American Airlines, whose support is needed, have pushed back against the idea.
The tollway, formerly known as the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway, features four toll interchanges and three mainline collection points with tolls costing 20 to 25 cents per mile compared to an average of 6 cents per mile elsewhere on the tollway system.
That means it will cost an I-PASS driver $1.90 to travel from Lake Street in Hanover Park to Route 83 in Bensenville, a price that's too steep for some commuters such as Bob Jacobson of Schaumburg.
Those tolls "are much too high to justify its use," Jacobson said. "The only destination in that direction for me would be O'Hare, and there are surface street options at no cost with little extra hassle."
Agency leaders said higher rates are needed to pay for the $3.4 billion project that includes I-490, another toll road on the west side of O'Hare to be completed by 2025. It would connect with Route 390 in the center, the Tri-State Tollway (I-294) in Franklin Park and the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90) near Des Plaines.
Meanwhile, local mayors said new interchanges at Park Boulevard, Arlington Heights Road/Prospect Avenue/Ketter Drive, Wood Dale Road and Route 83 would be an economic boost.
"Our businesses are already showing change. Three new buildings are going up and three old ones were torn down," Wood Dale Mayor Nunzio Pulice said. "An Amazon Fresh is moving in, so there's a whole lot happening."
Hanover Park Mayor Rod Craig, who served in the U.S. Navy, said, "I've been on the Seven Seas and I've seen aircraft carriers come at me, but I've never seen anything as awesome as this road."
High costs and local opposition caused the project to linger for decades, but eventually the tollway adopted the road, converting it from a freeway to a toll road.
Chicago Department of Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans said extending Route 390 east had the "full support of Mayor Rahm Emanuel as we work to build a better and even more efficient O'Hare.
"Today there is only one point of entry to O'Hare on the east side," she said. "Creating a new entryway will benefit airport-bound travelers as well as other commuters and communities and businesses west of O'Hare."
DuPage Chairman Dan Cronin said the county will still push for an actual terminal on the west of O'Hare.
"We don't want (United and American) overburdened, but we need to continue to bang the drum," he said. "There has to be faith (the terminal) will not only become reality but be wildly successful in terms of economic development."
American Airlines is "actively negotiating with the Chicago Department of Aviation to reach a new lease agreement, but until we reach that agreement, we won't be publicly discussing the negotiations," spokeswoman Leslie Scott said.
Schillerstrom said the tollway will move forward "to build a new seamless access to O'Hare."
An interchange connecting Route 390 and I-490 along with western access will be completed by 2022, Schillerstrom said.