In a new development in the "transponder war" between Illinois and Indiana, the conflict surrounding toll road cooperation between the two states escalated recently despite a concession offered last Wednesday by Indiana Toll Road (ITR) officials, who rescinded their earlier refusal to extend toll-rate discounts to I-PASS customers, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Illinois tollway officials don't like the strings attached to the offer, however, specifically the requirement that I-PASS users register with the state of Indiana to receive the toll discount -- something that Illinois does not require of Indiana residents who participate in electronic tolling and receive a 50% discount compared with cash tolls.
The dispute implies that electronic-toll collection has failed to fully live up to its promotion as a seamless convenience free from bureaucratic regulations imposed over multiple jurisdictional boundaries, the paper said.
The board of the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority approved a resolution May 31 which would counter the perceived discrimination against I-PASS customers driving in Indiana by taking action against users of I-Zoom, Indiana's electronic toll-collection system scheduled to launch soon on the Indiana Toll Road, the Tribune reported.
Electronic tolling is set to begin in mid-June on the first 23 miles of the Indiana Toll Road, from the Illinois border to Portage, the Tribune reports, saying that no discounts initially will be offered to drivers, according to ITR Concession Co., the private firm with a 75-year lease on the toll road's operation.
The discounts are scheduled to begin when electronic tolling is available on the entire 157-mile Indiana Toll Road, which stretches to the Ohio border. That is expected by the end of the year, Matt Pierce, ITR's director of communications and government relations, told the Tribune.
The toll is $4.65 for automobiles traveling the entire length of the Indiana Toll road, and will shoot up to $8 for drivers paying with cash, as well as I-PASS and E-ZPass customers who fail to register under the Indiana plan when electronic tolling is completed, according to the paper.
If ongoing negotiations fail to produce equal treatment of drivers in both states, the paper reported, the Illinois tollway board gave executive director Brian McPartlin authority to strip Indiana drivers who participate in electronic tolling of the 50% discount they currently receive when traveling on the 274-mile Illinois tollway system.
Among other actions, the Illinois toll authority also could terminate Indiana residents' I-PASS accounts, the paper added.
"We insist on reciprocity," McPartlin said told the paper. "We just want to be treated as good neighbors."
Indiana's I-Zoom devices are compatible with the I-PASS transponders used on the Illinois tollways as well as with the E-ZPass transponders accepted in Illinois and on most toll roads and bridges in the eastern U.S.
Under the Indiana plan offered Wednesday, only drivers using I-Zoom would automatically receive a discount 40% below the cash toll. I-PASS and E-ZPass customers would be required to sign up on a Web site, according to the Indiana Department of Transportation.
"We don't want our I-PASS customers to have to jump through any hoops," Illinois Toll Authority Chairman John Mitola told the Tribune. "We are just asking that a fair and equal discount be applied."
Indiana and ITR officials say it is essential for I-PASS and E-ZPass users to sign-up to help establish how many vehicles with electronic toll collection will use the Indiana system, the paper reported.
"We are being cautious and fiscally prudent. I cannot fathom why the Illinois tollway would pull the discounts for Indiana residents because we require someone to sign up on a Web site and check a box," Joe Gustin, deputy commissioner at the Indiana Department of Transportation, told the paper.