On August 25th,the Illinois Tollway Board of Directors approved a massive $12 billion, 15-year reconstruction program for the Illinois tollway system. The capital project plan provides for the rebuilding, widening, expanding and overhauling of large sections of Illinois’ spread-out 286 miles of highways. In addition to rebuilding the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90) between Rosemont and Rockford, it will add a lane. The plan also promises to:
1) reconstruct the central Tri-State Tollway (I-294) from 95th Street to Balmoral Avenue;
2) rebuild the Edens Spur;
3) construct an interchange linking I-294 and I-57
4) construct the Elgin-O’Hare western bypass between I-90 and I-294;
5) rebuild and widen the Elgin-O’Hare Expressway.
6) repair both the Reagan Memorial Tollway (I-88) and Veterans Memorial Tollway (I-355).
The great news about this development is that, eventually, Illinois drivers will move more quickly and smoothly along these key super highways. However, there is also really bad news, as well:
1) the promise of countless summers ahead filled with construction-related lane closures and the related traffic tie-ups, causing frayed nerves and late arrivals;
2) an eye-popping 87% increase in tolls, beginning January 1, 2011. The cheapest toll plazas will then cost I-PASS users 75 cents (vs. current 40 cents) while those without an I-PASS will continue to pay twice the amount charged I-Pass drivers.
There was only one dissenting vote on the Board, member Bill Morris, who opposed the move because those poorer residents who don’t typically use an I-PASS might “see their annual toll expense increase by a painful $400 to $500.” In addition, Morris opined that since the Tollway Board has a balanced budget and enough projected cash flow under its current rate structure, that it is capable of continued fulfillment of the tollway’s “prime mission,” which is the maintenance of the existing 286-mile system.
In a similar spirit, The Chicago Tribune editorialized their concern that this is the wrong time for such an expansive and expensive spending plan, concluding: “The tolls collected to support those jobs isn’t money that’s lying around on motorists’ dressers; it’s money that would otherwise be spent on immediate needs, such as groceries. Gas prices are up, taxes are up, schools are charging “sports participation fees” to make up for lost state funding, and when was the last time most people got a raise?” http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/editorials/ct-edit-tolls-20110824,0,4499108.story
State Rep. Tom Morrison (R-54th) shared that concern: “Gas prices are up, food prices are up, unemployment is high, and all of this is coupled with the massive tax increase that the Democrats signed into law in January of this year. Tolls add up, and this unfortunate decision now makes it more expensive for Illinois residents to get to work everyday.”
“The capital plan that passed is too long-term, too expensive and fails to consider the tough economy that faces everyone in Illinois. There is no doubt that road improvements and less congestion improve quality of life, however, a scaled down plan could have elevated that quality of life while not hitting everyone’s wallet so hard.” http://morrison.ilhousegop.org/category/press-releases/
In sharp contrast, Gov. Pat Quinn dismisses such concerns, saying that the long-term plan was needed because, otherwise, the Chicago area would become known as “the shock absorber capital of the United States.” http://heraldnews.suntimes.com/news/7281205-418/illinois-tollway-board-approves-steep-87-percent-toll-increase.html