Higher rates drove some motorists away from the Illinois tollway in the first quarter of 2012, statistics released Wednesday indicate.
There were about 4 million fewer passenger vehicle transactions January through March as a result of tolls nearly doubling on Jan. 1. In the first quarter of 2011, 169 million passenger transactions occurred compared to 165 million this year, a 2.4 percent drop, the agency reported.
But mainly because of the toll hike, revenues increased from $157 million in the first three months of 2011 to $223.8 million in 2012.
The decline in traffic was less sharp than expected, officials said, noting planners had projected a 5.9 percent decrease in passenger transactions.
"We performed better than we would have anticipated ... we had less falloff in passenger vehicle traffic," Executive Director Kristi Lafleur said at a finance committee meeting. But that could change in the summer when people are on vacation and have more discretionary trips, she noted. "We have always anticipated a 5.9 percent (decrease) across the board, sometimes it will be lower, sometimes higher."
As a likely sign of a recovering economy, more trucks were using the tollway in the first quarter, which also accounted for the extra revenues. Commercial vehicle transactions stood at 21.5 million, a 6.7 increase from the same three-month period in 2011.
Truck tolls will not increase until 2015.
"On the revenue side -- particularly with the rebound of commercial vehicles, which we all hope indicates the economy is improving -- we have seen revenue perform at a little bit more than we anticipated," Lafleur said.
Passenger and commercial vehicle toll transactions combined came to 186.7 million in the first quarter, a dip of 1.4 percent from 2011.
The tollway raised fees Jan. 1 to pay for a massive $12 billion "Move Illinois" construction program.
In addition to maintaining the current system, the agency will build an interchange at I-57 and the Tri-State Tollway, widen the Jane Addams Tollway and extend the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway east in conjunction with constructing a bypass on the airport's west side.
The changes meant tolls jumped by 35 cents to 45 cents at most plazas, while ramp fees spiked by a range of 15 to 45 cents for I-PASS users in cars.