Illinois plans to convert all of its toll plazas to open-road tolling over the next 10 years as part of a $5.3 billion plan announced on Aug. 25 by Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The ambitious plan will reduce traffic and congestion, rebuild and reconstruct the entire tollway system, add lanes to the system¹s major roads and build a "long-anticipated" south extension of I-355, according to the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority. In the process, the plan will generate $20 billion in economic benefits and create 252,000 jobs.
"When the tollway system was created, it was all about moving people to and from places faster," said Blagojevich. "Now, it¹s just the opposite. It slows everything down. The time has come for a major overhaul of the tollway system. That¹s why we¹re creating a new tollway system for the 21st century, so that commuters can get where they¹re going faster and easier."
The plan¹s top priority is to give the tollway system¹s 1.3 million daily vehicles a smoother ride by reconstructing or resurfacing 90% of the system¹s roads. Most of Illinois¹ toll roads were originally built in the 1950s, and 65% of them are more than 45 years old. Most of the new roads would be built with continuously reinforced concrete.
To finance the 10-year plan, the toll authority plans to use bonds backed by increased tolls for passenger-car drivers who choose to pay in cash and increased tolls for commercial vehicles based on number of axles. Passenger-vehicle drivers will see an average increase of 40 cents.
Drivers who decide to use the state¹s I-Pass electronic toll tag will continue to pay 40 cents, 50 cents on I-355, for cars, SUVs and trucks with two axles and four tires, the Chicago Tribune reported. Drivers who pay cash will have to pay 80 cents, $1 on I-355. I-Pass users will be able to drive under the overhead gates at the toll plazas at highway speeds; users who pay with cash will have to pull over to the other lanes on the side.
Truck drivers would see no discount for using I-Pass, and the average toll for an 18-wheel tractor-trailer truck would jump from $1.50 to $4. There would be a discount to $3 between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
The tollway authority points out that it has not increased tolls in more than 20 years and that Illinois has the lowest toll rate per mile in the country. Even with the increase for drivers who choose to pay cash, tolls in Illinois would remain among the lowest in the country.
About half of the system¹s tolls are currently collected through I-Pass, reported the Chicago Tribune.
The tollway authority would like to see that number increase substantially.
The plan calls for widening 117 miles of the tollway system¹s 274 miles of interstate highway.
The plan includes several other initiatives:
- implementing the latest intelligent transportation systems to share real-time information with drivers, improve incident management and coordinate with local transportation networks;
- building a 12.5-mile extension of I-355 from I-55 to I-80; and
- adding context-sensitive noise walls, bike paths and landscaping.
The tollway authority will hold public hearings in the counties served by the tollway before any toll increase takes effect. Construction can begin late this year if the tollway board approves the new toll rates to take effect Jan. 1, 2005.