The Illinois Department of Transportation announced that it has received U.S. Department of Transportation approval for the first phase of a $2.7 billion expansion of the Eisenhower Expressway, according to the Chicago Tribune.
The highway, which runs west from the Chicago Loop into the suburbs, would be widened and see the addition of toll lanes and free bus and carpool lanes. The project earned the federal green light after submitting its environmental impact study, but IDOT officials said they have received no funding commitment for the design, engineering and construction phases.
IDOT officials said they will give "strong consideration" to a public-private partnership (P3) solution as the state explores its financing options.
The potential funding dilemma aside, this is positive news for an agency that had to deal recently with the ramifications of Illinois lawmakers' June budget standoff. It was only a month ago that IDOT issued an order directing highway contractors to stop work after state legislators failed to agree on a full-year budget.
After lawmakers overrode Gov. Bruce Rauner's veto of the budget and tax increases a few days into July, work restarted. During the brief shutdown, however, approximately 900 state transportation projects worth more than $3 billion sat idle.
While Illinois hasn’t passed the type of infrastructure spending bills that have come out of states like California and Indiana, the Illinois Tollway system has launched a few ambitious initiatives. The tollway can chart its own infrastructure course for the most part because it finances projects through user fees and bonds, rather than state funding.
In December 2016, the system authorized a $1.7 billion capital program for 2017, which included $374.5 million for a western entry to Chicago O’Hare International Airport, $405 million in debt payments, $336 million for maintenance and $587 million for other projects.
A few months later, in April, the tollway board proposed a $4 billion plan to widen a 22-mile segment of the system to ease congestion near O'Hare. The work would include adding a fifth lane in each direction and incorporating shoulder lanes for buses and emergency vehicles.