What could the Illinois tollway's proposed increase mean for average commuters?
With proposed rates going up by 35 cents at half the toll plazas in the area, that could total $3.50 more each week for a driver who passes through the Tri-State Touhy Avenue plaza twice daily, for example.
Multiply that by 52 weeks, and that commuter is looking at $182 more a year.
To get some perspective, I talked to I-PASS holders at the Des Plaines oasis last week.
"I think it's awful," Mike Beauvais of Des Plaines said. Beauvais added he was under the impression tolls would stop in the 1990s once construction was paid for. "It's too much money," he said.
The Illinois State Toll Highway Authority has proposed a $12 billion, 15-year capital plan. The money would pay for upkeep of existing roads, plus construct an interchange at the Tri-State and I-57, expand the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway east to O'Hare, build a bypass around the airport and widen I-90.
Suburban drivers might find it exhilarating to hear talk about building infrastructure, reducing congestion, spurring economic development and generating jobs after months of economic depression.
But to accomplish this, the agency would raise tolls by 35 to 45 cents at a majority of plazas in the area.
Last week, when I described the expansion program to Joe Carper of Barrington, he said, "If I know it's going for that, I have no problem."
But he also referenced Illinois' history of political corruption and government waste, noting "if it's collected and goes to where it's been known to go, I don't like it."
"It is what it is," said Doug Long of Cary. "There's nothing you can do about it."
"I have no other choice," said Keisha Smith, who works in Elgin. "If it means better roads, it will be a plus for me."
Points to ponder
While the tollway took months exploring what new projects to adopt in its capital plan, the issue of the toll increase seems to be moving more quickly. Introduced at the July meeting, officials said they could vote on the issue as soon as Aug. 25.
Here are some issues we'd all like more information on:
• Were carpool or congestion-priced lanes (where you pay more at rush hour for an express lane) figured into the new revenue projections?
• Why is the tollway opting for a more expensive Elgin-O'Hare extension plan costing $3.1 billion when a scaled-back version that IDOT backed is only $2.2 billion?
• How accurate are the optimistic guarantees of 120,000 permanent jobs created by the capital plan?
Lots of questions to dig into in the weeks to come, and I'll do my best to get the answers.
As for the governor?
A lot of you also have said you'd love to hear Gov. Pat Quinn's take on the issue. At one time Quinn was the agency's worst nightmare, calling for tollways to be converted into freeways.
Now -- although he has power to hire and fire board directors -- Quinn's offered no opinions on a toll hike yet. An aide said he would speak at the appropriate time.
"We're going to let the whole process (move) forward," Quinn said last week. "The tollway has a board, they are going to have public hearings, and I think that's a healthy thing, to let the public have a chance to speak."
Have an opinion on the proposed toll increase and capital plan? You can speak out at some upcoming tollway hearings.
• 4 to 6 p.m. Aug. 18, Kane County Government Center, 719 S. Batavia Ave., Geneva.
• 7 to 9 p.m. Aug. 18, DuPage County Government Center, 421 N. County Farm Road, Wheaton.
• 7 to 9 p.m. Aug. 19, Libertyville Civic Center, 135 W. Church St.
• 7 to 9 p.m. Aug. 19, Village of Huntley, 10987 Main St.
• 4 to 6 p.m. Aug. 23, Schaumburg Prairie Center for the Arts, 201 Schaumburg Court.
• 7 to 9 p.m. Aug. 23, Buffalo Grove Village Hall, 50 Raupp Blvd.
Good to know there are still grammarians out there. Several alert readers jumped on the headline of my last column, "Venting about higher tolls, less trains." Among them was reader Ann Maine who wrote, "it should have been 'fewer trains.' Not 'less trains.'" Duly noted.
One more thing
If you're a boss looking for ways to make it easier for employees to get to work, the Metropolitan Planning Council wants to help. For free, the organization will evaluate staff members' commutes and develop a plan to encourage carpooling or transit use. The goal of the Commute Options program is to get 19,000 cars off the roads in the Chicago region, reducing traffic and making everyone more productive. But space is limited. If interested, contact MPC Project Manager Tim Grzesiakowski at (312) 863-6040 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks to everyone who contributed to In Transit's Best Road Trip Song Ever contest. Entries ranged from "Fast Car," to "Call Me Al," to "On the Road Again." The judges are at work, finalists will be announced soon and, then, you pick the winner.
You should know
AAA reports that one in four households could not pay for a car repair costing $2,000. And more than half of Americans are holding on to their old automobiles because they can't afford new car payments, the AAA survey found. Are you keeping your clunker or delaying repairs? Let me know at email@example.com.
So much to choose from this week. But I'll pick the shutdown of Route 56 in Sugar Grove for shooting scenes from the new Superman movie. The "Man of Steel"-inspired closure stretches from Galena Boulevard to Route 47 and reopens no later than 8 p.m. Wednesday. That's showbiz.