Tollway boycott? Doable but not painless
A motorist pays a toll at the northbound Farnsworth ramp from I-88 near the Chicago Premium Outlet Mall.
My I-PASS is sulking.
"Use me," it seems to say, pouting. "You love to speed along on I-355. What's with this inferior road? What's with the stoplights? And the potholes? Use me."
Revenge of the gas pump
Gas prices in 2011 skyrocketed, surpassing historical averages, AAA reports. The average cost for a gallon of regular in the metropolitan region was $3.78 last year, compared to the previous 2008 high of $3.43. Prices as of Friday were $3.63 a gallon here, AAA noted.
I ignore the whining and drive on. Since the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority nearly doubled its rates Jan. 1, I have tried to commute between Downers Grove and Arlington Heights using local roads, not toll roads.
And the results? Not so bad. Typically it takes about 30 minutes to get to work. I'm addicted to Veterans Memorial Tollway (I-355), but using Route 83 only added five minutes to the morning travel time — although it seemed longer with the innumerable stop lights.
Returning home about 6 p.m., it was a different story, taking an extra 15 minutes.
Before the rate hike, it cost me $1 to pass through the Army Trail Toll Plaza on I-355 twice daily. With the new tolls, that's $1.90 total a round trip, or about $225 more a year.
I also avoided two tolled ramps, which collectively came to 55 cents a day in 2011 and now cost $1. It took six minutes longer one-way.
Other drivers are also trying to break or lessen the I-PASS habit.
After hearing about the toll hike this summer, John Ehrenstrom started taking Route 56 between his home in Geneva and office in Westmont instead of I-88.
"At the time I was spending $50 a month on tolls," Ehrenstrom said. "Even with the construction on Route 56, I noticed little difference in commute time. It was about five to 10 minutes longer most days.
"The savings is worth the slight inconvenience. I figure I can save $1,000 or so in 2012. These days, people are getting pinched everywhere. I'm glad I have the option in this case to avoid the hurt.
"I still take the toll road occasionally, like on days when I have to go downtown and can't take the train. The last time I drove it was bumper-to-bumper from Eola to Meyers on I-88. I'm sure I could have done better with the new route."
One retired reader from Arlington Heights wrote, "we have used the tollway system to visit friends and relatives in Rockford, Wisconsin and Indiana. Our new route to Indiana is to take the Kennedy and Dan Ryan expressways to I-80, traffic and weather permitting. To Rockford, we may use Route 20 ... again weather permitting.
"To Wisconsin, Route 12 is good especially within Wisconsin, although summer weekend traffic can be tough."
But Arthur Aman, also of Arlington Heights, said he doesn't plan on boycotting. "My wife and I are not daily users of the tollway system but we don't plan to make any changes in our use of it. It speeds going from A to B and is well worth the increased toll."
Of course, dissing the tollway on a sunny January week, like the one we just had, is one thing. But will drivers prefer the generally well-plowed toll roads once the winter storm beatdown begins? And losing that temporary high of cruising at 70 mph (I mean 55 mph) instead of chugging along from stoplight to stoplight could also weaken drivers' resolve.
Meanwhile, tollway administrators hope to have statistics on numbers of drivers using the system post-increase available this week.
When the agency approved the toll hike to pay for a $12 billion construction program in August, officials said they budgeted for some drop-off but didn't expect it to be significant, if previous trends hold true.
"If history is any teacher, people do come back very quickly to the tollway. They like the service, they like the operation, they like saving time," tollway Chair Paula Wolff told me in August.
As a note of caution, I just heard from one reader who switched to 131st Street in the south suburbs to avoid the painful 90-cent increase at the Spring Creek Toll Plaza on I-355, only to get a $120 speeding ticket.
Drop me an email if you're sticking it to the man — I mean the I-PASS — or if you're sticking to the tollway at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marlene Hunt of Gurnee writes that, "handicapped placards are another form of distracted driving ignored by the users, police, etc. When handicapped placards are issued by the secretary of state, the rules state that the cards may be placed in full view in the front window when the vehicle is parked — but not while the vehicle is being driven.
"If you think about it, the windshield is already cluttered with the rearview mirror and visors. If it is too sunny, visibility is further compromised by a handicapped placard left dangling from the mirror."
You should know
The city of Elgin and State Sen. Michael Noland are trying to jump-start an express bus in Kane County. A group of local officials held an inaugural meeting Friday to talk about bus rapid transit on Randall Road.
More than 40,000 commuters use the Randall Road corridor daily. Fast buses could reduce congestion and pollution, organizers said. One possible route would go between Sherman Hospital in Elgin and Randall and Orchard roads in North Aurora.
Expect changes today to a number of CTA buses that travel to and from Union Station and the Ogilvie Transportation Center because of the never-ending Wacker Drive construction project. Buses with route tweaks include: No. 7 Harrison, No. 121 Union/Wacker Express, No. 123 Illinois Center/Union Express, No. 129 West Loop/South Loop.
Bus No. 20 Madison westbound and No. 122 Illinois Center/Ogilvie Express eastbound resume normal routing.
CTA staff members will be on hand during rush hour to explain changes today and Tuesday at Adams and Canal streets and Clinton and Madison streets. Or check out transitchicago.com/wacker.
The Great Pothole Contest of 2012. Stay tuned for details and keep your eyes peeled.
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