After months of torturous negotiations, Illinois tollway officials are hoping that 2020 will be a breakthrough year for the Route 390 extension to O'Hare and I-490, a ring road on the airport's west side.
The $3.4 billion project will connect I-490 with the Jane Addams Tollway in Des Plaines, Route 390 and the Tri-State Tollway (I-294) in Franklin Park, plus push the former Elgin-O'Hare Expressway east to the airport.
But the road's proximity to the nation's busiest airport and two freight railroads -- Union Pacific and Canadian Pacific -- make this one of the tollway's most challenging initiatives.
A legal dispute between CP and the tollway over land has stalled momentum, but when asked about negotiations with the railroads Thursday, Chairman Will Evans told directors "there has been progress made. ... We're still hoping to close before the end of the year."
Deals with CP and UP and finalizing plans with Chicago will be game-changing when it comes to the mega-interchange with Route 390 and I-490.
However, the interchange "is not going to proceed until we get the agreements in place, because we have to cross the railroads and go into the airport," Chief Engineer Paul Kovacs explained.
Work is proceeding incrementally with crews building at the north end. And at a Thursday board meeting, tollway directors approved a $33 million contract with Plote Construction to construct a section of I-490 between the future Route 390 and Irving Park Road. The work also includes relocating lights on Runways 10-Left/28-Right and 10-Center/28-Center at O'Hare.
Extending Route 390 and building I-490 are expected to change commuting patterns for Northwest suburbanites along with western access to O'Hare.
You should know
The tollway's 2020 budget proposal was unveiled Thursday, showing tolls and fines should generate a whopping $1.5 billion in 2020, up about $45 million from 2019 estimates. The capital budget, funded mainly by bonds, is $1.46 billion, with $559.6 million dedicated to Route 390 and I-490.
Meanwhile, the agency will lose about 27 toll collector jobs as the system continues a shift to automation. Executive Director Jose Alvarez said no one will be laid off; instead, employees will be reassigned.
The operations and maintenance budget, which includes salaries, is up by $31 million. Part of that is attributable to new executives handling procurement. Alvarez hired three former colleagues from the Chicago Housing Authority, who earn a collective $512,000 a year, in order to improve oversight, he said.
One more thing
Several black business owners told tollway officials Thursday that authentic minority-owned small firms are being shut out while ones that do receive contracts aren't bona fide.
"There's billions of dollars being given out and you never see a minority get any part of it," said advocate Karen Hicks of Chicago.
"You need to get away from fake (minority) companies," contractor Harold Davis said.
Historically, it's difficult for small minority firms to break through because large projects require capital to satisfy state requirements, said Director Stephen Davis, a Wheaton resident who is black.
"We're going to try and look at something creative to give opportunities to all minority companies," said Davis, who heads up the Diversity Committee.
Bad news for travelers hoping that O'Hare's ATS, an automated people-mover train, would return to service by Thanksgiving. The Chicago Department of Aviation announced Friday the train won't operate until 2020.
During testing, workers discovered a flaw in the mechanism providing the electrical current that moves train cars, the department said. The ATS has been closed since January, so it can be remodeled and expanded to include a stop at a new car rental/parking facility.
Midway International Airport added two new restaurants last week.
Home Run Inn, an iconic Chicago pizzeria, and Harry Caray's Shortstop, named for the beloved Chicago Cubs announcer, opened for business as part of a $75 million refresh of Midway's concessions area.