CHICAGO, Ill. – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today unveiled his vision for the future of the Illinois Tollway with a 10-year, $5.3 billion plan that will reduce traffic and congestion, rebuild and reconstruct the entire Tollway system, add lanes to the system’s major roads, make Illinois the first state in the nation to convert to Open Road Tolling, build the long-anticipated south extension of I-355 and create 252,000 jobs.
“When the Tollway system was created, it was all about moving people to and from places faster,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “Now, it’s just the opposite. It slows everything down. The time has come for a major overhaul of the Tollway system. That's why we're creating a new Tollway system for the 21st century, so that commuters can get where they're going faster and easier.”
Rebuilding and widening the Tollway’s roads, 65 percent 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 including 252,000 jobs, according to statistics from the U.S. House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure. The conversion to Open Road Tolling will also eliminate tollbooths and the delays they cause for those who have I-PASS.
Plan Focused on Needs
The debut of this long-range plan is the latest step in the reform of the Illinois Tollway mandated by the Governor when he took office. As part of its reform agenda, the Tollway’s new leadership promised legislators that there would be a fresh look at the Tollway’s capital needs and the cost of those needs. The Tollway developed the plan with input from various civic groups, planning organizations, elected officials, municipalities, transportation agencies, academics and customers. Input from elected officials included a resolution passed by the Illinois House Special Committee on the Tollway.
“The first year of our reform agenda was spent putting the Tollway’s financial house in order and increasing I-PASS usage,” said Tollway Executive Director Jack Hartman. “Now that we have been successful in showing our customers that their tolls are being spent wisely and that I-PASS can reduce their travel times, we need to make an investment in the future of the Tollway.”
Based on a comprehensive re-evaluation of the entire system and input from a wide-variety of stakeholders, the long-range plan catalogues the Tollway’s capital needs and focuses on strategies to reduce congestion and improve service for its more than 1.3 million daily customers. The projects proposed on the four legs of the Tollway system – I-294/94, I-90, 1-355 and I-88 – are designed to achieve five goals.
1. Top priority: fix it - The top priority is fixing the existing infrastructure for a smoother and safer ride by reconstructing and resurfacing 90 percent of roads.
2. Congestion relief - In addition to widening 117 miles of road as part of reconstruction, the plan also includes congestion relief projects to further reduce travel times via the use of I-PASS, including the first-ever system wide conversion to open road tolling, which will yield approximately 116 open road toll lanes.
3. Meeting regional growth- Part of the Tollway’s mission is to serve regional growth and building I-355 South is a natural extension of this mission.
4. Enhancing local economies - The Tollway also wants to implement new programs and policies, such as noise walls and intermodalism, to help bolster the economies of the locations it serves.
5. Cutting-edge initiatives - The plan includes cutting-edge initiatives, such as congestion pricing, which would allow the Tollway to implement the latest technology to better serve its customers.
Top Priority: Fix It
Topping the list of projects is the need to rebuild much of the system’s 274 miles of pavement, 65 percent of which is more than 45 years old. Comparatively, all other Chicago-area interstates, including the Stevenson (I-55) and Eisenhower (I-290) expressways have been rebuilt at least once since 1959, the year the Illinois Tollway was opened. Excellent maintenance and interim overlays/resurfacing have allowed the Tollway to provide a smooth ride on most of its roads, but the base underneath is crumbling and needs to be reconstructed now to prevent repeated construction going forward. Since congestion costs residents 44 hours in time and 104 gallons of gas annually according to the Texas Transportation Institute, most of the roads that need to be rebuilt would also be widened to add capacity. Most new roads would be built with continually reinforced concrete, which needs no resurfacing for 35 years and lasts at least 60 years.
I-PASS improvements made in 2003 have already reduced the average Tollway commute time by as much as 10 minutes and the congestion relief projects scheduled for 2004 and in the Long-Range Plan could reduce travel times another 15 minutes. To further eliminate delays caused by toll plazas, the Tollway is planning the conversion of 15 mainline toll plazas to Open Road Tolling, which eliminates tollbooths for those with I-PASS. This would be the nation’s first and largest conversion of a barrier-type toll collection system to a barrier-free system, which would allow I-PASS customers to drive through toll plazas at highway speed.
“The technology behind Open Road Tolling may be complex, but the idea is simple: instead of making drivers slow down or stop to pay a toll, we will remove the toll booths, allow drivers to keep going at full speed, and instead collect tolls electronically,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “It means more time with your family, more time at home, and more time doing the things you like to do. Nothing is more frustrating than being stuck traffic: cars in front of you, cars behind you, cars next to you and you can’t go anywhere. Getting rid of the toll booths means less traffic.”
Meeting Regional Growth – Build I-355 South
The south extension of I-355 is desperately needed to keep people and goods moving and the economy growing in Will County, which is one of the fastest growing counties in the state. The proposed four-to-six-lane extension of I-355 south for 12.5 miles from the Stevenson Expressway (I-55) to I-80 would reduce travel times by 20 percent and improve access to job-rich areas. The estimated cost of $730 million would necessitate a higher toll than most of the current system, similar to the higher toll on the existing segment of I-355, due to the higher construction costs of building now compared to when the original system was completed in the late 1950s. Construction could begin by the end of the year. The second proposed system enhancement is western access to O’Hare Airport. This is a key component of the airport expansion plan if federal funding is secured for the project, so it is included in the long-range plan.
Enhancing Local Economies
Other efforts to enhance local economies include new programs and policies that would accompany new construction such as context-sensitive noise walls, bike paths and landscaping. To help communities served by the Tollway manage growth, the plan includes a revamped interchange policy with cost-sharing guidelines, and projects that focus on intermodalism, such as planning improvements on I-90 around the plan for Metra’s STAR line. The plan also proposes the establishment of Corridor Planning Councils to implement land-use guidelines and coordinate future corridors with local jurisdictions such as continued work on the Lake County Transportation Improvement Project (LCTIP) to develop more consensus in the area on what route should be taken in the future to relieve congestion.
Cities and towns would also benefit from the Tollway’s $5.3 billion infrastructure investment, which is expected to attract new businesses, resulting in about $20 billion in economic benefits -- including 252,000 jobs — by making it easier for businesses to locate there, -- and attract customers, -- and to distribute their goods and services.
All of the projects proposed involve the implementation of the latest Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS). This technology would be used to share more real-time information with drivers, improve incident management, and better coordinate with local transportation networks. Congestion Pricing is a cutting-edge initiative that would reduce toll rates for trucks during off-peak periods in an effort to shift the timing of truck traffic and reduce congestion. While this has proven effective on the East Coast, this would be the first value pricing effort in the Midwest.
Economic Development & Other Benefits
While the Illinois Tollway started as a rural bypass connecting Illinois with Indiana and Wisconsin, it is now a key link in Northern Illinois’ transportation system. It connects residents in five counties to their jobs in the suburbs where nearly 500,000 jobs were created between 1990 and 2000. Many of these are good-paying jobs with large corporate employers headquartered along the Tollway. The Tollway is also a primary freight route for trucks that carry goods vital to the economy.
In fact, every dollar invested in highways yields about $4 in economic benefits and growth, according to the U.S. House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure, 2003. And this plan further improves the quality of life in Northern Illinois by reducing emissions at toll plazas. By eliminating the need to wait in line and stop to pay tolls, open road tolling would improve air quality with a 41 percent reduction in carbon monoxide emissions, according to studies by the Illinois Tollway.
Passenger car drivers with I-PASS will see no toll increase. The 10-year, $5.3 billion plan would be financed by bonds backed by a modest toll increase for passenger vehicles without I-PASS and commercial vehicles. The Illinois Tollway has not increased tolls in more than 20 years and has the lowest toll rate per mile in the nation. Because the Tollway is a user-fee system and does not receive any state or federal gas taxes, only those who use the Tollway, pay for it.
On the existing system, there would be an average toll increase of 40 cents for passenger vehicle drivers who choose to pay cash and a larger increase for commercial vehicles based on number of axles (see attached toll rate sheet). And, even with the increase for drivers who choose not to use I-PASS, tolls on the Illinois Tollway would remain among the lowest in the nation. For senior citizens and people with disabilities, the Tollway is working with a third-party delegate to cover the cost of purchasing I-PASS for those customers who meet pre-set eligibility requirements, such as those for the state’s Circuit Breaker program. In this way, the $50 upfront cost for I-PASS will be covered for low-income seniors and people with disabilities.
Truckers could reduce the additional tolls paid by driving during off-peak periods to take advantage of Congestion Pricing. With the additional reduction in trip time that will be provided by the long-range plan, truckers should still save more in operating costs then they spend in tolls. Nationwide, trucks are charged higher toll rates than cars because they cause the bulk of the wear and tear on highways. The damage caused by one truck equals that caused by 10,000 cars, so it is only fair that trucks pay more.
Consistent with the Tollway’s reform agenda, this long-range plan was developed with input from as many stakeholders as possible, and the public input process will continue with public hearings in each of the 12 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 required to finance the plan to take effect January 1, 2005.
Key Projects In Long-Range Plan (see Plan document for projects by road)
Rebuild & Widen
· South Tri-State (I-294) from I-394 to 95th St.
· North Tri-State (I-294) from Balmoral to Rockton Rd.
· Northwest Tollway (I-90)
o from Kennedy Expressway to Sandwald
o from Newberg to Russell Rd.
· East-West Tollway (I-88) from I-290 to Orchard Rd.
· Northwest Tollway (I-90) from East Riverside to Rockton Rd.
· Construct western access to O’Hare if federal funding for airport expansion is secured
· Context-sensitive solutions such as noise walls, bike paths and landscaping
The Illinois State Toll Highway Authority maintains and operates 274 miles of interstate tollways in 12 counties in Northern Illinois, including the East-West Tollway (I-88), the North-South Tollway (I-355), the Northwest Tollway (I-90) and the Tri-State Tollway (I-94, I-294, I-80/I-294). The Illinois Tollway offers customers I-PASS electronic toll collection for congestion relief and ease of travel. Call 1-800-UC-IPASS, visit www.getipass.com or go to Jewel-Osco to buy an I-PASS. I-PASS customers with existing accounts can also manage their accounts online. For more information, go to www.illinoistollway.com. Get I-PASS and Get Going!