Funding Cuts Mean Lighter Summer Roadwork in the Suburbs
May 31, 2011
By Marni Pyke
If you’re fuming in gridlock along I-90 this summer, take comfort in the fact it could be much worse.
For many drivers in the West and Northwest suburbs, the 2011 construction season is relatively light compared to previous years when the Illinois tollway’s $6 billion rebuild program was in full swing.
This year, “we have $192 million worth of work, which is nowhere close to what we were doing a couple of years ago,” tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur said.
Meanwhile, county highway departments with limited dollars are focusing on repairing and maintaining existing roads.
“We continue to be in a maintenance mode where we’re repairing and maintaining the system we have with enhancements when there’s funding,” DuPage Director of Transportation and Operations John Kos said.
And major state highway projects in the metropolitan area are located to the south, unlike in 2010 when the Eisenhower Expressway resurfacing caused localized congestion.
But that doesn’t mean there won’t be traffic jams and delays as roadwork heats up.
Here’s a look at some regional trouble spots.
• Resurfacing on I-90 is occurring near the Belvidere Oasis from Route 20 to Genoa Road and from the Elgin Toll Plaza to Barrington Road.
• The ramp from southbound I-294 to eastbound I-90 will be repaired and widened this summer. The bridge will be closed and detours posted.
• I-55 between I-355 and Kedzie is being resurfaced along with improvements to the highway shoulder in preparation for a new express bus route.
• The Congress Parkway bridge rebuild is continuing with two lanes open inbound and one lane open outbound.
• Five bridges are being repaired on the Tri-State at Everett Road in Lake Forest, at I-55, and in the South suburbs at Chicago Road, Vincennes Road and 159th Street.
• I-80 from Grundy County to Route 45 is being resurfaced. Traffic will be down to one lane in each direction in some areas.
Federal money for highway projects is another factor in the underwhelming construction climate. Economic stimulus revenues are drying up and Congress has yet to approve a multiyear surface transportation bill.
Even if such a measure is enacted, it’s predicted to be stingier than previous ones, reflecting declining revenues from gas taxes, said Congressman Dan Lipinski, a Western Springs Democrat who sits on the House Transportation Committee.
The House’s version of the surface transportation bill could come in at around $212 billion, compared to $256 billion in 2005, Lipinski noted. And finding consensus with the Senate is iffy.
“It’s going to be very, very difficult for anything to get done in this Congress,” he said.
The tollway, however, is expected to announce a new building program in the near future that will address an anticipated rebuild of I-90 and likely the much-anticipated extension of the Elgin-O’Hare Expressway and western bypass around the airport.
“Over the next couple of months, the plan should be coming together and we’ll have a better sense of future activity,” Lafleur said.
The conservative mood is also affected by high fuel prices. Motorists are conserving gas and driving less, which means a smaller share of motor fuel taxes, Kos added.
“We’re cautious about being too far ahead of the revenue stream,” he said.
The good news for local governments is that less work means competition among road builders for projects, Kane County Assistant Director of Transportation Manny Gomez said. “It’s a great time to do construction; we’re seeing good bid prices.”
In addition to expressways, numerous arterial roads will get a makeover this summer. Some examples follow.
• Route 56 (Butterfield Road) will be rebuilt and widened in Warrenville and Wheaton.
• Route 47 is being rebuilt from Kreutzer Road to Reed Road in Huntley with lane closures.
• Later this summer, Milwaukee Avenue will be widened from Route 120 to Route 137 in Libertyville with expected lane closures.
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