Up to 213,500 cars and trucks a day to work around. Irate residents. Thirty-two bridges teeming with traffic. Multiple railroads and the second-busiest airport in the nation to circumnavigate.
And for drivers, possibly eight years of jackhammers and construction backups.
The Illinois tollway is powering through a remake of the Central Tri-State Tollway, the cash cow of the system. The $4 billion project will reconstruct and widen I-294 from four lanes in each direction to five lanes along most of the 22-mile corridor, but some sections, such as near Hinsdale, will plump up to six lanes.
Tollway Chairman Robert Schillerstrom called the Tri-State the "backbone of the system" and said the project will "have a substantial impact in a positive way on our customers."
Construction kicks off this year between Balmoral Avenue and Wolf Road near Franklin Park, but other parts of the plan are still conceptual. Mainline construction is expected to last through 2025.
The agency predicts ultimately a 25 to 55 percent reduction in peak travel times between Balmoral Avenue in Rosemont and 95th Street near Oak Lawn, and promises to fix gridlock and dysfunction at some key interchanges.
Those include the junction of the Tri-State, Reagan Memorial Tollway (I-88) and I-290 near Elmhurst, where chronic backups occur. In cooperation with the Illinois Department of Transportation, the fix includes adding new ramps and connections to separate different streams of traffic.
Another sore point is the nexus of North Avenue and I-294 near Northlake. The tollway will build a ramp from the southbound Tri-State to County Line Road and straighten out the messy intersection of North Avenue and Lake Street.
The plan also will include shoulder or "Flex Lanes" that Pace express buses can hop onto when traffic is heavy.
With a Flex Lane in the mix, Hinsdale officials say they're stuck with a four- to seven-lane expansion, which some residents worry will chew up too much land near parks and homes.
The village hired an engineer and came up with an alternative plan that wasn't as drastic, but the tollway has proved "intractable" about lanes, Village President Thomas Cauley said.
"They've given the indication they won't back off from seven lanes in each direction, so we're trying to work with them to minimize the impact to the community."
Still, Cauley thinks there wasn't enough vetting to justify the scope of the $4 billion expansion.
Schillerstrom said the tollway has "sharpened its pencil" and dramatically reduced the amount of property it required. "We want to be a good neighbor," he said.
A map of the corridor shows a mishmash of six- and five-lane sections. The widest parts will be near major interchanges, such as I-290 and I-55, Chief Planner Rocco Zucchero said. The intent is to add two lanes to eliminate bottlenecks where traffic from other highways merges into the Tri-State.
As part of the rebuild, the tollway will construct detention ponds and storm sewers to address flooding from sources such as Salt Creek near Elmhurst.
Oak Brook Trustee John Baar hopes new sound walls will end up leaving his village better off.
"At least for Oak Brook, it seems (the project) is not going to impact us detrimentally," he said.
But Gail and Joseph Scrappo of Oak Brook, whose backyard is bordered by a I-294 sound wall, have their doubts.
Construction will mean "a lot more noise and congestion and dirt," Gail Scrappo said. "There are myriad problems. When they put the (first) sound wall in, the dishes fell out of the cabinet. If they put another wall in and bring it closer ... it's not going to be good."
Keep calm and drive on if you're near routes 20 and 59 in Bartlett. IDOT is reconstructing the interchange and lane closures are ongoing.
Tom Palmer of Barrington wrote that "my problem with the state law about drivers' and pedestrians' rights is that more and more people believe that since they have the 'right of way,' they can just simply walk across the road without looking for oncoming cars. What ever happened to your mother's teaching that when crossing a road or highway, you look to the left, then the right and the left again, and if it's clear of moving traffic, you can cross?" Got a transportation comment or question? Send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ride to remember
The annual Ride of Silence to commemorate cyclists killed or injured in crashes is scheduled for Wednesday, May 16. Events are planned in Arlington Heights, Bartlett, Crystal Lake, Elk Grove Village and Fox Lake. For more information, go to www.rideofsilence.org/.