CHICAGO – Building on reform efforts already underway to improve customer service and accountability at the Illinois Tollway, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich signed legislation today that expands employee ethics guidelines, improves the agency’s business practices, and enhances toll violation enforcement and collections, including the authorization of a one-time Amnesty Program for toll violators.
“The Illinois Tollway has made significant strides over the past two and a half years to win back the confidence of Illinois’ drivers by proving that toll money is well spent and the Illinois Tollway is accountable to its customers,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “With this legislation, we ensure that this reform effort will continue.”
Senate Bill 1964, sponsored by Sen. Jeffrey Schoenberg (D-Evanston) and Rep. Elaine Nekritz (R-Northbrook), authorizes a one-time, 60-day Amnesty Program for toll scofflaws with outstanding toll violations that starts tomorrow - August 23rd and ends October 21st. The amnesty program is the latest component of a Violation Enforcement System debuted in 2003 to collect the money owed to the Tollway and to protect the 97 percent of customers who pay their fair share.
Under the Amnesty Program, violators with outstanding tolls will have 60 days to pay 50-75 percent of their original fines and missed tolls, or face harsher sanctions; including increased fines, suspension of license plates and driver's licenses, towing, booting or impoundment of vehicles, or referral to a collection agency.
“Drivers who cheat their fellow Tollway users have learned an expensive lesson that violating the law is no longer tolerated,” said Illinois Tollway Executive Director Jack Hartman. “Like the state’s tax amnesty program, the Tollway Amnesty Program is a last chance for violators to settle delinquent violations and clean their slate.”
The Amnesty Program payments outlined in the new law are based on a sliding scale that requires violators with up to 25 violations to pay 50 percent of their original fines and tolls, violators with up to 50 violations to pay 60 percent of their original fines and tolls, and violators owing more than 50 violations to pay 75 percent of their original fines and tolls. This approach is considered the most cost efficient way to quickly collect the missed tolls and a large amount of the related fines owed to the Tollway and its customers.
“These long-awaited reforms will give the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority more accountability over this agency's spending practices and policies,” Schoenberg said. “It will also provide the tollway and those motorists with numerous violations the opportunity to wipe their accounts clean once and for all.”
“This comprehensive legislation is long overdue. The ethics provision and increased accountability over the expenditure of toll funds demonstrate the commitment of the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority to restoring public confidence in this agency,” said Rep. Nekritz.
The Illinois Tollway has established several ways for violators to make amnesty payments:
Credit card payments
· Online 24 hours a day, seven days a week at http://vpc.illinoistollway.com
· By phone, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday at 1-877-715-1235
· Cash, money order, cashiers check, or credit card will be accepted from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday at the Tollway headquarters, 2700 Ogden Avenue in Downers Grove. No personal checks will be accepted.
Other elements of Tollway reform bill include:
- Puts into law the desire of the Tollway to include Disadvantaged Business Enterprises in Tollway contracts.
· Provides additional teeth for Violation Enforcement System penalties – including towing, booting or impoundment of vehicles owned by scofflaws that refuse to pay fines and missed tolls.
· Allows law enforcement officers to confiscate any license plate that is covered with any material that obstructs the electronic image recording of the plate.
- Amends the Toll Highway Act to require that the Tollway give first priority to maintaining the roadway and paying bondholders and that the Tollway only spend its money for bona fide Tollway purposes. In addition, the bill codifies a number of best practice reforms implemented by the Governor to ensure that the Tollway operates in the most efficient, transparent and service-oriented manner. Such best practice reforms, now codified, include: annual public hearings on the Tollway’s budget and posting of the annual budget and annual reports on the Tollway Web site.
- Strengthens the ethics practices by codifying the State Ethics laws into the Tollway Act including the prohibition against directors, employees and agents using their position or employment with the Tollway for personal financial gain or advantage.
The Illinois Tollway maintains and operates 274 miles of interstate tollways in 12 counties in Northern Illinois, including the Ronald Reagan Memorial 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).
In 2005, the Tollway kicked off Governor Blagojevich’s 10 year, $5.3 billion Congestion-Relief Plan that will reduce travel times by rebuilding/restoring 90 percent of the system, adding lanes to about 117 miles of existing roads, converting 20 mainline toll plazas to barrier-free Open Road Tolling, and extending I-355 south to I-80 in Will County.