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$4 billion plan to improve, widen Tri-State Tollway approved

Big changes are coming for the central portion of the Tri-State Tollway. | File photo

An ambitious $4 billion plan to rebuild a portion of Interstate 294 was approved Thursday by the Illinois Tollway Board.

No toll increase would be needed to fund the plan, which was approved by an 8-to-0 vote.

But some, including Hinsdale President Tom Cauley, noted that widening I-294 would likely have a “devastating impact” on village property values, parks and noise levels.

“Yet despite this potential to cause serious damage to Hinsdale, the Tollway Authority had put forth no hard evidence to justify widening I-294 through Hinsdale,” Cauley wrote in a letter read aloud.

About 30 people spoke at the meeting Thursday in Downers Grove, the vast majority supporting the proposal. Many were contractors and other business people eager for the potential economic benefits predicted for the tollway’s expansion.

Speaking after the board’s vote, Tollway Board Chairman Bob Schillerstrom said his agency is sensitive to the concerns of communities that could be affected by the expansion.

“This is a first step,” Schillerstrom said of the vote. “This is a philosophical statement as to what we are looking to do. Now discussion will begin. We will be reaching out to neighbors, we will be reaching out to communities.”

Asked how many homes might need to be demolished to make way for the work, Schillerstrom said: “That’s unknown at this point. Hopefully, none. . . . Our goal is, as much as possible, to stay in the chute that we already have. As we design it, that will be one of our goals — not to impact our neighbors.”

About $1.9 billion was in the pipeline as part of an already approved plan to rebuild the 22-mile central portion of the Tri-State between Balmoral Avenue and 95th Street.

This week, it was revealed the enhanced project would need an additional $2.1 billion. It would include adding lanes and making other improvements, which tollway officials predict could increase “peak” travel speeds from 24 mph to 45 mph.

That central portion of the Tri-State “is a patchwork of pavement that includes original 60-year-old roadway and key infrastructure that is deteriorating,” Schillerstrom had said in a news release. “If the tollway is going to make the best investment for our customers and the region, we need to expand these plans.”

Among the recommended fixes:

  • Additional lanes, including a “Flex Lane” for the entire 22-mile stretch. The Flex Lane is a controlled-access wide inside shoulder.
  • Improved interchanges at Interstates 290 and 55.
  • Addressing stormwater runoff with communities along the route.
  • Also under consideration: additional noise walls, landscaping and bike/pedestrian connections; new truck parking to reduce freight congestion.