Anyone who's crawled along the central Tri-State (I-294) near O'Hare Airport at 4 p.m. on a weekday knows the Illinois tollway's workhorse is flawed.
But fixing the most heavily used toll road in the system is problematic given a limited budget and constraints such as the Mile Long Bridge and interconnecting highways.
Tollway leaders told planners Thursday to ignore the impediments and think big in designing a rebuild that could include a fifth lane, wider shoulders and new interchanges, with construction possibly starting in 2020.
"I'd like to see the Cadillac version," Chairman Bob Schillerstrom said during a meeting. "You can't think about taking it down to the dirt and rebuilding without adding capacity."
The project stretches from 95th Street near Oak Lawn to Balmoral Avenue by Rosemont.
Possibilities include creating express lanes that could be designated for carpools or used during rush-hour by people willing to pay a higher rate. Another idea is reversible lanes, such as the ones used on the Kennedy Expressway.
Communities along the central Tri-State are seeking new or improved interchanges. For example, the interchange with I-294 and Irving Park in Bensenville is a partial one. And, near Elmhurst there's no direct access to North Avenue from the Tri-State.
Another focus will be flood relief, Chief Planner Rocco Zucchero said. "We want a collaborative way to address regional flooding," he said, adding the tollway could expand detention ponds, acquire new ones or create wetlands.
Some locations so troublesome they could be divided into separate projects are the Mile Long Bridge near Willow Springs, the BNSF Railroad bridge near Western Springs and the interchange with I-294/I-290 and the Reagan Memorial Tollway (I-88). In all three cases, space for improvements is confined.
"Don't be constrained by other roads," Schillerstrom told staff planners, adding the tollway can collaborate with IDOT on solutions.
The current budget for the project is $1.7 billion.
The central Tri-State handles about 360,000 vehicle trips a day and more than 24,000 truck trips.
The last time the tollway added lanes to the central Tri-State was in 1992. The tollway later widened the north Tri-State and south Tri-State to four lanes in the 2000s.
The tollway is still planning for the rebuild. An advisory group that included municipalities, transit agencies, IDOT, utilities, railroads, planners and businesses listed relieving congestion and increasing access in the corridor as top priorities.