RLBA Helps Illinois Tollway Authority Gain Access to Canadian Pacific Right of Way

The Illinois State Toll Highway Authority’s decades-long project to provide western access to/from new terminals at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport is complicated by a Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) right of way, which borders the same side of O’Hare. Thanks in part to two Verified Statements prepared by RLBA staff on behalf of the Tollway and presented before the Surface Transportation Board, the Tollway Board was able to approve a momentous “Letter of Intent” with the CPR. With the approval, both parties withdrew ongoing litigation against each other and construction can begin to road access from/to the west.

“This is an agreement that’s good for both sides,” said Tollway Board Chairman Robert Schillerstrom. “It’s good for our transportation network and it will create economic opportunity and jobs.”

The project has come a long way from the time when CPR broke off initial negotiations and refused to grant the access and property needed by the Tollway. Shortly afterwards, RLBA was engaged by counsel to the Tollway to examine the impacts on CPR of proposed construction and operation of the Tollway’s Western Access Interchange, a system of five highway bridges that will connect the new IL-390 Tollway with the new Western Access Tollway, as part of the Tollway’s overall Elgin-O’Hare Western Access Project .

To connect the two new highways, bridges will need to cross over the double-track CPR C&M Subdivision and the parallel, double-track Union Pacific Railroad Milwaukee Subdivision just west of O’Hare.  The subject rail lines are part of the CPR route between Chicago and Milwaukee, extending to Minneapolis/St. Paul and Canada. 

RLBA reviewed Tollway engineering drawings, interviewed leading engineers from the Tollway and its selected engineering consultants, gathered rail operations background information and performed twelve days of video surveillance of CPR train operations in the vicinity. RLBA’s team of veteran rail operations and engineering experts concluded that the project could be consistent with railroad engineering best practices and in keeping with countless similar projects involving CPR and other major railroads. Construction-related impacts should be minimal and lasting impacts would not unreasonably interfere with railroad transportation or interstate commerce. RLBA’s findings were presented in a Verified Statement that was part of the Tollway’s STB filing. 

RLBA also prepared a second Verified Statement which examined, among other issues, the feasibility of two hypothetical facilities which CPR, in response, suggested might be located along a portion of its Milwaukee Subdivision.  This in and of itself is a good example of RLBA’s knowledge of how railroads think: RLBA first helped to de-thaw complicated negotiations and, by the end, proposed solutions that were accepted by the opposing Class-I railroad.