Buddy,can You Spare a Billion?

Article excerpt

Tuesday night, I drove out in the rain along Butterfield Road to get to my election assignment -- Congressman Peter Roskam's victory party in Wheaton. The going was a little tricky because of wet roads and the fact Butterfield is torn up with an interminable construction project.

But it wasn't the weather that made me nearly careen into a ditch. It was a radio commentator noting that President Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney had spent about a collective $2 billion on their campaigns.

What would that kind of money buy if it wasn't spent on negative ads? For starters:

* A bunch of railway grade separations to protect drivers and pedestrians from trains and relieve freight congestion in the Chicago region.

* New buses and train cars for Pace, Metra and the CTA.

* A completed Elgin-O'Hare Expressway and western bypass around the airport.

It was particularly striking since I'd just talked to DuPage Chairman Dan Cronin about the hardship local governments have coming up with $300 million for their share of the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway.

Now, $300 million is chump change in terms of political spending, but it's sheer angst for the towns clustered around the project, which include 19 municipalities and townships. An increase in tolls will help pay for most of the $3.4 billion total cost, which is being undertaken by the Illinois tollway.

The project includes extending the expressway along Thorndale Road from its eastern terminus in Itasca to the airport and connecting it to a bypass that circles around the western side of O'Hare. The bypass will link with the Tri-State Tollway (I-294) to the south in Franklin Park and the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90) to the north in Des Plaines.

At October's Illinois State Toll Highway Authority meeting, officials said they hoped to hear details about the $300 million quest by the end of the year.

Cronin said he's working on it.

"Coming up with $300 million in this day and age is not an easy undertaking, but we think we'll be able to do it," Cronin said. "We're pursuing every avenue of funding that is available."

That means everything from federal Congestion Mitigation Air Quality grants that individual towns can apply for or in-kind contributions. "We're trying to quantify things we haven't thought of in the past, such as maintenance of peripheral roads," Cronin explained.

And, "we have high expectations of our congressional delegation."

Cronin plans to meet with Roskam, Sen. Dick Durbin and others with hopes of securing a multiyear funding commitment for at least $30 million annually.

At the victory party, I asked Roskam about the expressway's chances for federal cash. The Wheaton Republican's 6th District represents much of DuPage County and he also sits on the all-powerful Ways and Means Committee.

"I'm happy to work with all parties," Roskam said.

Stay tuned.

One more thing

In 2013, $95.6 million is budgeted for preliminary construction and engineering on the project. …