Elgin O’Hare Expressway No Longer a “Road to Nowhere”

by Jacqueline Eichele for SUST 210

When I first began using the Elgin O’Hare expressway here in the Chicago region, the road was not heavily congested during rush hour or any other time. I remember noticing over time that new mammals, birds, and reptiles would arrive in the wetlands near the Lake Street exit. I now realize the area was slowly recovering from the original construction of the Elgin O’Hare. I vividly recall seeing the first hawk on a light post and thinking about how it had adapted to the presence of the road in the urban landscape. The following year I would see a couple more, and eventually I saw them on almost every light post. This year, though, I haven’t seen one.

The Elgin O’Hare Expressway opened on November 2, 1993, with two eastbound and two westbound lanes. It stretched from Lake Street to Route 53 and was jokingly dubbed the “Road to Nowhere,” since it didn’t go to either Elgin or O’Hare Airport.

This year the Elgin O’Hare, soon to be renamed Route 390, is under construction set to end in 2025, major effort known as the Elgin O’Hare Western Access (EOWA) expansion project. The IL Department of Transportation boasts that it will:

  • save drivers $145 million in time and fuel by 2040
  • decrease local rush hour traffic by 16%
  • decrease local road delays by 24%
  • reduce travel time from Lake Street to the west side of O’Hare Airport by 25%
  • reduce travel time at I-290/Thorndale by 35%
  • add around 17 miles of toll roads/15 new interchanges
  • “improve mobility, freight connectivity and enhance the national and regional economies”
Proposed Elgin O'Hare Expressway

Proposed Elgin O’Hare Expressway

To minimize impact on surrounding homes and businesses, the expansion needs to go through land currently undeveloped. According to the EOWA EPA Report, new roads will impact 24.85 acres of jurisdictional wetlands and 2.97 acres of jurisdictional streams.

EOWA has a three-year agreement with the University of Illinois to ensure that this project is the “cleanest and greenest” in the agency’s history. They will use Federal Highway Administration’s INVEST self-evaluation tool to ensure the project is sustainable for years to come. The EOWA project accommodates future transit options like bus systems, a possible Metra line connecting suburbs, and new bike/pedestrian paths.

Despite the green initiatives, I still question if this expansion is the best idea. Although the thought is the expansion will eventually lead to more public transportation options, easier expressway travel could lead to an increase in expressway usage. While everything sounds good in theory, the traffic scholar Tom Vanderbilt, author of Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (2008), would argue that more roads do the exact opposite – they just bring more traffic. I wonder if the hawks will be lining the streets again in 10 years?

Each week during the Fall 2014 semester, students in Prof. Mike Bryson’s SUST 210 Sustainable Future and SUST 240 Waste classes at Roosevelt University will contribute blog posts on urban and suburban sustainability issues to the Schaumburg’s Sustainable Future website.

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About Suburban Sustainability

Founder and editor of the Schaumburg's Sustainability Future social media project (est. Earth Day, 2011)
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