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Thu September 01, 2011 - Midwest Edition
The Illinois Tollway board of directors Aug. 25 approved the $12 billion capital plan, Move Illinois: The Illinois Tollway Driving the Future, establishing a guide for infrastructure investments for 2012-2026 and setting a new toll rate for passenger vehicles effective Jan. 1, 2012.
Board members voted 7-1 to adopt the 15-year plan that will provide safer travel conditions and relieve congestion on the Tollway and throughout the region, in addition to creating jobs and stimulating the economy.
The capital plan provides funding to complete the rebuilding of the 52-year-old Tollway system, including the reconstruction and widening of the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90) with accommodations for transit, as well as funds to construct projects essential to maintaining the global competitiveness of the region and unlocking the economic potential of the Midwest for years to come, including the Elgin O’Hare West Bypass, the Tri-State Tollway (I-294)/I-57 Interchange and planning for the Illinois Route 53 Extension and Illiana Expressway. The plan incorporates transit opportunities on the Tollway system for the first time in the agency’s history and commits to “building green” efforts that will minimize the environmental impact of new roadway construction by reducing, recycling and reusing materials.
The new capital plan will be financed by bonds backed by a toll rate increase for passenger vehicles effective Jan. 1, 2012, and a previously approved commercial vehicle increase scheduled to begin in 2015. Funding for the proposed plan also will be generated through toll revenue from additional facilities, including the new Elgin O’Hare West Bypass.
“A year and a half ago the Tollway board set out to create a plan to build a state-of-the-art, 21st century transportation system to serve our customers and improve mobility in Northern Illinois,” said Tollway Board Chair Paula Wolff. “We have reviewed many proposals, had many discussions, listened to many people and now believe that this is the best plan to improve the Tollway system, deliver the new projects our region demands to maintain global competitiveness and — anticipating future needs — incorporate transit in our highway travel to relieve congestion and reduce pollution.”
The Tollway hosted 15 public hearings throughout Northern Illinois, which attracted more than 1,900 participants. The goal of the hearings was to gather genuine public reaction to the board resolution outlining the priorities and funding plan passed at the July board meeting. The hearings were attended by Tollway board members, who have received transcripts and summaries of the hearings in order to inform their decision on the adoption of the plan.
“We are confident that the vast majority of customers and communities we serve stand behind us in support of this 15-year investment in the Illinois Tollway’s future,” said Illinois Tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur. “Now is the time to move forward with these critical infrastructure improvements to provide congestion relief on the Tollway and coordination with the other transportation and transit agencies to do something new and innovative with an eye to the region’s future transportation needs.”
Of those submitting written or oral comments, 85.5 percent were supportive of the capital plan, including chairs of the five “collar” counties that surround the Chicago metropolitan area: DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties, and Boone and Winnebago counties, and 9.5 percent of public hearing participants, or 121 people, were opposed to the plan. Many who spoke are involved in the construction industry and were supportive of the scope and design of the capital plan. Others were eager to relieve congestion in their communities or revitalize towns and cities that will benefit from improved transportation. Those testifying repeatedly reminded Board members that to remain competitive in the global market, Illinois’ position as a world-class transportation hub has to be maintained. More than 80 local government organizations, public agencies, professional associations, business groups, labor unions and environmental program advocates have expressed support for the Move Illinois plan.
The Tollway also broadcasted all of the public hearings live on its Web site and collected 1,884 public comments online through Aug. 24, including 1,351 comments supporting the plan, 417 opposing the plan and 116 that can be described as “other.”
Capital Plan Overview
The 15-year, $12 billion capital plan approved by the board includes $8.32 billion to fund necessary improvements to the existing Tollway system. These needs are programmed to be performed at the right time to keep the existing 286 mi. of roadways in a state of good repair. Projects include:
• Reconstructing and widening the 52-year-old Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90) from the Tri-State Tollway (I-294) to Rockford
• Reconstructing more than 20 mi. of the central Tri-State Tollway (I-294) and the Edens Spur (I-94)
• Preserving the Reagan Memorial Tollway (I-88)
• Preserving the Veterans Memorial Tollway (I-355)
• Repairing roads, bridges and maintenance facilities
• Other capital projects, including local interchanges
In addition, the capital plan commits an additional $3.83 billion for new projects that focus on enhancing mobility, including:
• Constructing a new interchange at I-294/I-57, as well as the 147th Street ramps
• Constructing the Elgin O’Hare West Bypass, including completion of the Elgin O’Hare, construction of the West Bypass between I-90 and I-294 and rehabilitation and widening of the existing Elgin O’Hare Expressway
• Planning for transit on the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90)
• Planning studies for the Illinois Route 53 Corridor and the Illiana Expressway
The plan approved by the Board includes a toll rate increase of 35 cents at a typical mainline toll plaza, with cash-paying passenger vehicles continuing to pay double the I-PASS rate. The proposal represents the first toll increase in 28 years for I-PASS users, who comprise 75 percent of the Illinois Tollway’s 1.4 million daily users. The Illinois Tollway is a user-funded system that receives no state or federal tax dollars for maintenance and operations.
“This is a practical, financially sound plan that relies on user fees to maintain and improve the Tollway system and take on regional projects that will reduce congestion and improve travel for millions of commuters and businesses,” Lafleur said. “We recognize that no one wants to pay more, but this is a reasonable increase that provides tremendous benefits through a toll rate that remains lower than what most others pay across the U.S.”
With the approved toll rate increase — typically from 40 cents to 75 cents — the cost of a car trip on the Tollway system for an average I-PASS customer would be $1.18, up from today’s average of 63 cents per trip and an increase of $2.75 a week or $11.00 a month. Even after the increase, the Illinois Tollway will rank 29 among all 41 toll road agencies in the United States in terms of price — still in the bottom third and an average of just 6 cents per mile.
The commercial vehicle increase previously approved by the Tollway board in 2008 will remain in place. Commercial rates are scheduled to increase a total of 60 percent between 2015 and 2017 and are tied to the Consumer Price Index beginning in 2018.
Capital Plan Benefits
The capital plan improvements on the Illinois Tollway and new regional projects will create or sustain more than 120,000 permanent jobs and add $21 billion to the economy. For every $1 billion of annual construction, more than 13,000 shorter-term construction jobs will be supported over the next decade.
“This plan delivers jobs and provides opportunities for needed economic development,” Wolff said. “At hearing after hearing, we heard about the critical need to invest money now in infrastructure and the need to create opportunities to help get people back to work.”
The capital plan will provide drivers significant time and cost savings. The new Elgin O’Hare West Bypass will accommodate three times as many vehicles per day as the local roads carry now and additional capacity on I-90 will accommodate 30,000 more vehicles each day, saving drivers up to 25 minutes on the average trip from Elgin to the Kennedy Expressway. In addition, the new interchange at I-294 and I-57 is expected to save Tri-State Tollway commuters using traveling on I-80 and I-57 approximately 25 hours a year in travel time.
The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) projects that, collectively, these three major projects — all priorities of its Go To 2040 Plan — will reduce vehicle miles traveled in congestion by 1 million miles daily, resulting in savings of more than $775 million annually due to reduced congestion and delays.
The Illinois Tollway is a user-fee system that receives no state or federal funds for maintenance and operations. The agency maintains and operates 286 mi. of interstate tollways in 12 counties in Northern Illinois, including the Reagan Memorial Tollway (I-88), the Veterans Memorial Tollway (I-355), the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90) and the Tri-State Tollway (I-94/I-294/I-80).