By Dean Olsen COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
SPRINGFIELD -- Chicagoland motorists who are tired of traffic jams and long commutes might have reason to cheer the state Senate president's recent statements about road improvements.
But political differences in state government about how to pay for projects might create barriers to legislation that would bring those proposals to fruition.
"I don't plan to offer any comments until I see what the governor wants to propose," House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said Thursday.
Madigan was responding to comments this week by Senate President James "Pate" Philip, R-Wood Dale.
"We need a gigantic road program in Illinois, particularly in suburban Cook and the collar counties," Philip said Wednesday. He said he supports Gov. George Ryan's call for an end to what Philip called partisan bickering.
Philip said the state's transportation plans this year should include several projects to improve the highway system in the growing western and northern suburbs to benefit all of northeastern Illinois two to 20 years from now.
Fixing the so-called "Hillside Strangler," a traffic bottleneck where 80,000 drivers a day endure delays caused by the convergence of the East-West and Tri-State tollways with the Eisenhower Expressway. Cost: $50 million to $90 million.
Extending the northern and southern ends of Interstate 355. Cost: at least $1.2 billion.
Widening the Eisenhower where it narrows around Oak Park. Cost: $600 million.
A collection of projects that would improve traffic flow in the area originally to be served by the Fox Valley freeway, which would have connected Interstates 88 and 55 and extended to the Wisconsin border. Gov. Jim Edgar halted that $1.3 billion road project proposal in 1993 amid opposition from Fox Valley area residents.
Sen. Chris Lauzen, R-Aurora, said he was glad to hear Philip's comments at the beginning of a new two-year legislative session.
Added Rep. Patricia Reid Lindner, R-Aurora, "Anyone who lives in the Chicago area would like to see the Hillside Strangler eliminated."
Toche Terrones, president of the Elmhurst Chamber of Commerce, said Philip is: "right on target. It's going to take cooperation from both sides of the aisle to help commerce and improve the quality of life." Practical problems
The main question is how to pay for it all, despite pledges of bipartisanship from Republicans and Democrats.
Philip suggested an increase in the state's $48 annual license plate fee, but Madigan and Democratic Secretary of State Jesse White oppose any increase.
Madigan said he previously supported an increase in the state tax on gasoline, but Philip and Ryan say they oppose that.
Philip suggested diverting the state's share of sales tax on gasoline to road projects, which would bring in an estimated $225 million a year.
Ryan instead supports putting $200 million a year in gas taxes back into the road fund instead of continuing to send that money to state agencies.
Ryan spokesman Dave Urbanek said the governor will consider Philip's road-project suggestions, but gives highest priority to the Hillside Strangler project, which transportation officials said could be fixed in 2 1/2 to four years with adequate funding.
Philip also suggested long-term borrowing and help from Republican Dennis Hastert, the new speaker of the U.S. House, in getting more federal dollars for state road projects.
A spokesman for Hastert couldn't be reached Thursday. Southwest area plans
At least two projects currently under study -- the 30-mile Wikaduke Trail and the 50-mile "outer-belt freeway" west of Illinois 47 in Kane, Kendall and Grundy counties -- have emerged since the Fox Valley freeway project died.
But Philip didn't identify what parts of the Fox Valley project he supports, except to say officials from the Illinois Department of Transportation have made suggestions.
A department spokesman, Richard Adorjan, said Philip was referring to a variety of road plans the department has proposed and supported through the years. Adorjan said he didn't know whether the Wikaduke and outer-belt freeway were included.
Wikaduke -- which would connect existing roads, most of them local roads -- would extend from Illinois 56 in North Aurora to U.S. 6 near Channahon. It would cost at least $300 million. The project's name is derived from the first two letters of the counties working with the state on the highway plans: Will, Kane, DuPage and Kendall.