"Wanna new interchange, here's de form, fill 'er in, 'n sign, 'n date" - Illinois Tollway

May 5, 2011

Not quite, but they do have a standardized approach to requests for new interchanges at the Illinois Tollway. You're required to "provide the following information for the Tollway's consideration: definition of project need; traffic analysis and technical evaluation, an economic development analysis, a financial plan, and resolutions of support for the project."

This quotes Rocco Zucherro, the Tollway's deputy chief of engineering laying out policy as established in 2007 for handling new interchange proposals. He said this leading off a recent Intergovernmental Agreement Working Group (IGA) meeting. They have so many requests for new interchanges they've instituted a policy and a standard set of requirements.

At the Tollway their selection policy, quoting Zucherro again, involves applying judgement as to: "the economic development benefit, regional priorities and support for the project, whether the proposal is operationally effective, the level of service benefit and disruption, access control and interchange spacing, the environmental impact, project costs (initial and long term maintenance) and revenue generation."

Revenue generation is a major consideration - appropriately, since it's a measure of good benefits to motorists.

Since 2007 they've been insisting on cost-sharing with the local municipality according to a formula: "(1) (The) Tollway will have a maximum 50 percent contribution to interchange project construction costs and (2) the basis for the cost sharing will be the system-wide net new revenue increase due to the interchange over a 10 year period as projected by WSA." (WSA being their traffic and revenue consultants, Wilbur Smith Associates.)

Groundbreaking in Rosemont

Fruit of the new interchange policy was shaping up today with a groundbreaking ceremony on construction of a $27m all-electronic tolled (AET) exit on the Tristate Tollway, I-294 at Balmoral Avenue in Rosemont, near Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. Rosemont called a "village" is a 2.5 square mile, 6.5km2 highly commercial mini-municipality with a distinct lack of thatched village roofs, small pubs, whitewash, wishing wells, and cobblestone ways.  Rather, befitting a close neighbor of the big Chicago  airport it has a dense collection of hotels, motels, a convention center, entertainment complex, bigbox shopping, and various airport services.

The new Balmoral Interchange will give northbound traffic on the Tristate Tollway a second exit option near the Airport and a direct connection to the Rosemont area. The project consists of a new northbound offramp to Balmoral Avenue, a widening of the Balmoral Avenue bridge over the Tollway and improvements to the existing southbound onramp.

The offramp will have two all-electronic toll lanes under a gantry arrangement over the ramp. Such installations have vehicle detection and classification with electromagnetic loops in the pavement and transponder readers, cameras and supporting IR lights to get license plate images mounted on the gantry spanning the toll point.

Rosemont finances, Tollway funds half

Under the intergovernmental agreement with the Tollway, the Village of Rosemont has agreed to finance up to $26.5 million for the project. Rosemont will issue construction bonds and the Tollway will reimburse the village for up to half of the cost of the project through payments out of tolls collected at the new ramp over the next 25 years.

Illinois Tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur is quoted in a statement: "In today's economy, we are all looking to do more with less. For the Tollway, this involves forming partnerships with local communities and leveraging our existing infrastructure to provide cost-effective benefits to Tollway customers and our local partners."

Village Mayor Bradley Stephens: "This is a very big day for Rosemont. We have worked long and hard to bring the Balmoral ramp to reality, and I am grateful to the Tollway for agreeing to construction of what I believe will be a major catalyst for development in the entire region."

The new exit will provide an alternative to the congested River Road exit and I-190, and new access to the Stephen's Convention Cente, The Rosemont Theater and dozens of hotels, as well as the new entertainment district, The Park at Rosemont and a new retail outlet shopping mall planned for construction immediately adjacent to the exit.

It will eventually provide alternative access to O'Hare Airport relieving the I-190 spur. The state DOT and the village plan an extension  of Balmoral Avenue west in a flyover of Mannheim Avenue US12 and ramps making for a direct connection to the Airport's International terminal.

The new interchange is not far from two rail stations - Rosemont's Metra commuter rail station and the Rosemont CTA rail transit Blue Line.

Rosemont is financing the estimated $25m construction cost up front and taking the lead on construction. 

The Tollway says: "In line with its Interchange Policy the Tollway will contribute half of the toll revenue it collects on the new ramp to the Village to help it pay off the construction bonds for up to 25 years.  If the Tollway increases tolls at the ramp, the toller will keep 100 percent of the increase.  The Tollway's contribution is capped at a maximum of half of the actual construction costs, plus financing costs capped at a 6 percent interest rate."

WSA, traffic consultants, have projected the gross annual revenue at the Balmoral Ramp to be $1.3 million in 2012, the net annual new revenue estimate from a system-wide perspective will be about $800k in 2012, growing to $1.2m/yr by 2036.    

Net projected annual new revenue allowed for toll revenue diversions from the O'Hare East and River Road Toll Plazas. Additional annual operations and maintenance costs were estimated as less than $50k.

Civil engineering design is by Christopher B Burke Engineering of Rosemont and toll system design is by (insert).


QUESTION: So how does Chicago's notorious crony politics - for which a recent governor is on trial, and another is servin g a jail term - work in here? A pesssimist would say: this stuff is all a front. It's the surface veneer. An optimistic interpretation on the other hand would be that it's an effort by honest officials to limit the scope for favors and deals. We aren't close enough to things there to know where the truth lies - editor.

TOLLROADSnews 2011-05-05

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