The Illinois State Toll Highway Authority’s board of directors on Sept. 30 unanimously approved a 10-year, $5.3 billion plan that will reduce congestion and travel times by rebuilding and restoring almost the entire Illinois tollway system, adding lanes to the system’s major roads, making Illinois the first state in the nation to replace toll plazas with open-road tolling and building the long-anticipated south extension of I-355.
Approval of the Illinois toll authority’s plan--Open Roads for a Faster Future--announced by Gov. Rod Blagojevich in late August, follows a month-long public input process where 71% of the public who participated expressed their support of the plan. In addition to sharing their enthusiasm for congestion relief, those who spoke and submitted written comments were also excited about the creation of 252,000 jobs and the reduction of emissions provided by the plan.
Implementation of the plan will be financed by bonds backed by a toll increase for passenger vehicles without I-Pass and commercial vehicles. The toll rate for passenger vehicles with I-Pass will not increase. New toll rates will take effect Jan. 1, 2005, and will be posted in the newspaper and on signs along the tollway by Dec. 1, 2004.
"The time has come for a major overhaul of the tollway system. We put our proposal before the tollway’s users and they agree--it’s time to rebuild for congestion relief," said Gov. Blagojevich. "We will create a new tollway system for the 21st century, so that commuters driving to and from work, truckers making deliveries and even vacationers traveling in Illinois can get where they're going faster and easier."
Rebuilding and widening the tollway’s roads, 65% of which have not been reconstructed since they were built in the late 1950s, will result in a smoother ride for motorists and serve as an economic engine for northern Illinois. The $5.3 billion investment should generate about $20 billion in economic benefits, according to statistics from the U.S. House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure. Converting the system to open-road tolling will also eliminate tollbooths and the delays they cause for those drivers with I-Pass.
Since the announcement of the plan in August, the Illinois tollway has made several modifications based on feedback from tollway users including the extension of congestion pricing for trucks with I-Pass, a program to assist I-Pass participation for low-income drivers and coordination with Illinois State Police District 15 to enforce truck weight limits on adjacent local roads.
Working with the state’s trucking associations, the Illinois tollway authority agreed to extend the discounted congestion pricing initially offered to all trucks overnight to trucks with I-Pass during the mid-day off-peak hours and weekends.
Based on concerns of diversion onto local roads and truckers’ need to make deliveries during the day, the discount extension is designed to further reduce congestion by providing a financial incentive for trucks to travel the tollway during off-peak daytime hours.
To further address concerns about traffic diversion onto local roads, Illinois State Police District 15 has agreed to dedicate additional manpower to coordinate with local State Police districts and municipal police departments to increase enforcement. Additional portable weigh stations will be purchased and used as part of the enforcement details.
Following the direction of Gov. Blagojevich, the Illinois tollway also has developed an I-Pass Assist program through which it will work with public and private partners to provide reduced fees and other incentives that will assist low-income individuals in buying an I-Pass. This program will ensure that every tollway customer, irrespective of income, will receive the benefits of the lower toll rates and reduced travel times associated with I-Pass.
For more information about Illinois’ tollway plan, see the October issue of Transportation Management + Engineering.