Charging drivers extra to jump on an express lane during rush-hour could solve how the Illinois tollway pays for rebuilding and widening the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90).
But it's not clear where the money will come from to add a transit component like the long-awaited STAR line along the I-90 corridor.
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State and local transportation leaders gathered Tuesday at an Earth Day summit convened by the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority.
Tollway officials gave an update on the status of the Jane Addams, which needs to be rebuilt between Rockford and the River Road Toll Plaza because of its age and deteriorated condition.
Traffic on the I-90 also grinds to a halt in rush hour.
"People are tired of wasting time and money sitting in traffic," tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur said.
Project costs range from $1.9 billion to $4.5 billion depending on when repairs are done and what type of transit is added.
For example, fixing I-90, adding lanes and a bus rapid transit system would cost about $3 billion.
The most expensive option involves rebuilding and widening the tollway and allowing for the STAR line, a proposed commuter rail system along I-90 and the EJ&E Railway to be operated by Metra. The I-90 portion would run north-south from O'Hare/Rosemont to Hoffman Estates; the EJ&E section would continue east-west through Naperville to Joliet.
Tollway official are leaning toward paying for the road work via congestion pricing. The concept involves giving drivers the option of paying more to drive in an express lane during peak times or creating a carpool lane that allows single-occupancy vehicles for a fee.
But the transit element and improving the congested merge from the Jane Addams into the Kennedy Expressway aren't tollway issues alone, Lafleur told officials with the Chicago Transit Authority, Pace, Metra, the Regional Transportation Authority and Illinois Department of Transportation at the summit.
"Where is the money (for transit) going to come from?" asked tollway board Director Bill Morris of Grayslake.
As far as the STAR line goes, his question went unanswered.
The dearth of capital dollars for such a mega-project could mean commuter rail along I-90 remains mothballed for years.
"In the short term, I don't know how we could make the financial commitment. The money's not there," Metra Director Jim LaBelle said.
Pace officials, however, committed to providing bus service on the corridor.
"If there's an available lane we can do express bus service that does multiple stops," Pace Chairman Richard Kwasneski said. "We'd be willing to look at finding dollars to do something with our equipment."