Study calls for congestion pricing

Commuters willing to pay a fee to avoid traffic on expressways

News Chicago Tribune July 14, 2010
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A federally funded study by the Metropolitan Planning Council and the Illinois Tollway proposes the implementation of a “congestion pricing” strategy to free up Chicago expressways.

Facing the nation’s third-worst traffic congestion on a daily basis, Chicago commuters express willingness to pay to avoid traffic jams.

“There’s nothing more frustrating than dealing with traffic” said Mario Reed, a Chicago commuter, 28, the Chicago Tribune reported. “Whatever the cost could be, I would be happy to pay. It would make the quality of my life so much better.”

The congestion pricing would follow a supply-and-demand model that varied price based on traffic conditions. Expressway motorists would pay a premium toll to use a particular lane or lanes during peak demand periods.

The study looked at traffic patterns on the Stevenson Expressway (I-55) from I-355 to downtown Chicago, the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90) from I-290 to Elgin and the reversible lanes on the Kennedy Expressway (I-90/94).

The study stated that by converting the Kennedy Expressway lanes into congestion-priced lanes, drivers would be assured free-flowing traffic, even in rush hour, but would have to pay a toll depending on traffic and time of day.

Proponents argue that the fee would create incentives to travel during low-traffic hours, encourage public transportation use and carpooling and save money wasted from motorists stuck in traffic. Opponents called the congestion-priced lanes “Lexus lanes” for well-to-do drivers.

Peter Skosey, a transportation expert at the planning council, said that congestion pricing offers drivers choices.

Skosey said the congestion-priced lanes are for people of all means who are in a hurry or value their time.

“The public understands that unpredictable traffic conditions make everyday driving like a game of roulette,” Joseph Schwieterman, an urban transportation expert at DePaul University, told the Chicago Tribune. “Congestion pricing is about the only weapon we have in our arsenal to encourage more efficient use of our expressways [and tollways].”

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