Illinois Tollways to charge higher tolls to fund projects
BY MAUDLYNE IHEJIRIKA Staff Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org July 28, 2011 2:04PM
Drivers go east on I-90 at River Road Plaza 19 Thursday. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times
Updated: July 29, 2011 4:01PM
A toll increase is in the works for the Illinois Tollway system.
I-PASS users will pay 35 to 90 cents more per toll, as of Jan. 1, under plans unveiled Thursday by the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority.
Cash-paying passenger vehicles would continue to pay double the I-PASS rate.
Tollway officials said the increase is needed to pay for $12 billion of work that’s needed for new projects and repairs and improvements.
That includes $8.08 billion in repairs and improvements to the existing tollways and $4.07 billion for new projects — including the Elgin-O’Hare West Bypass and an interchange linking the Tri-State Tollway (I-294) with Interstate 57.
Auto I-PASS users currently pay from 15 cents to $1 across the tollway system, with most toll plazas costing 40 to 80 cents.
Tollway officials said Illinois would still be a relative bargain for drivers, in the bottom third in terms of price among the country’s 41 toll-road agencies.
They also said the proposed menu of road improvements should cut commuting times for many drivers.
“This plan is very necessary, because not only does it include all of the tollway’s existing system needs for the next 15 years, it also includes critical projects,” state Tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur said.
“We can continue to patch, but there’s a cost of doing nothing and that’s the cost of congestion in the Chicago area. We are the number one most congested region in the country,” Lafleur said.
Officials also argued the 15-year plan could create some 120,000 permanent jobs in the region, adding $21 billion to the economy.
The last toll increase came in 2005, for trucks and cash-paying customers, while I-PASS users have continued to pay a rate in place since 1983, officials noted.
Originally, motorists were promised that tolls would be temporary. The state law that created the tollway system in 1953 stipulated that toll roads would become freeways when construction bonds are paid off.
But officials kept issuing new bonds and collecting fares to fund tollway expansions and repairs.
Some of the latest improvements sought are reconstruction and widening of the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90) — the system’s oldest roadway — from I-294 to Rockford; reconstruction of more than 20 miles of I-294 and the Edens Spur (I-94); and preservation work on the Reagan Memorial (I-88) and Veterans Memorial (I-355) tollways.
Myriad repairs also are sought on roads, bridges and maintenance facilities, and local interchanges.
New projects include the new interchange connecting I-294 to I-57 — one of only two places in the nation where interstates cross but don’t connect, and a new all-electronic Elgin O’Hare West Bypass providing western access to O’Hare.
Also included are planning monies to study the extension of Illinois Route 53 corridor and the Illiana Expressway, and planning for transit on I-90.
Besides the toll rate hike, funding for the plan will come from a previously approved commercial vehicle increased scheduled to take effect in 2015, and through toll revenues from newly built toll facilities.
A series of public hearings on the proposed increase are scheduled to be held Aug. 18, 19 and 22, across the region, with information on locations and times available at www.illinoistollway.com
The Tollway Board of Directors is scheduled to vote on the plan and increases at its Aug. 25 meeting.
“We’ll hear from supporters, and I’m sure we’ll also hear from people who are concerned about the increase, and we’ll take that back and consider it in our decision-making,” said Lafleur.