The opening of a full interchange on the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90) and Route 47 last month sparked some pointed questions from John Fink of Huntley.
Fink graded the actual project as an "A" but gave tollway administrators a "D" for installing I-PASS only on/off ramps, saying it would be a damper on economic development.
All about BlueThe CTA's Blue Line O'Hare Branch is attracting new passengers at a rate surpassed only by the Red North Main Line. Annual ridership grew by 6.3 million in the last five years, CTA officials say. In 2012, there were more than 25 million station entries. The CTA announced $492 million in improvements to the O'Hare Branch last week.
Fink's not the first person to wonder about all-electronic interchanges -- that don't provide buckets to throw change into -- cropping up in Rosemont, Aurora and now Huntley, with some speculating they're cash cows.
It's a good excuse to turn this column over to you. Along with Fink's question and the tollway's response, I've got an inbox full of provocative comments about the proposed extension to Route 53 we'll get to momentarily.
First, the ramp.
"There are all sorts of rumors of various businesses coming to the northeast section of that (I-90/Route 47) intersection when construction is completed," Fink wrote. "So how many people will pull off from their trip when they see I-PASS only?"
Tollway spokeswoman Wendy Abrams said all-electronic interchanges speed drivers on their way and save money.
"There are no toll booths or cash baskets in the lanes and drivers are allowed to travel through without stopping," she said via email.
All-electronic interchanges are present at Balmoral Avenue and the Tri-State Tollway, Eola Road and the Reagan Memorial Tollway near Aurora, and now at Route 47 and I-90. All three are close to malls and can spur economic growth in communities as is the expectation with a fourth under construction at the Tri-State and I-57 near Harvey, officials said.
"Agreeing to build the projects as an all-electronic interchange provides for cost savings by reducing right of way purchases and eliminating construction of extra lanes for cash toll collection," Abrams noted, adding that 86 percent of tollway transactions are I-PASS ones.
Drivers who aren't registered I-PASS users have seven days to pay missed tolls online or by mail. You'll pay the cash rate, which is double the I-PASS rate -- $1.60 at the Balmoral ramp, for example, instead of 80 cents for electronic. If you miss the seven-day deadline, it will become a violation and three violations in 24 months will trigger a fine.
I-PASS users who forget their transponders will be charged automatically if the account is in good standing. To learn more about the wonderful world of tolls, check out www.illinoistollway.com/tolls-and-i-pass/toll-information.
Folks didn't hold back when it came to last week's column about extending Route 53 into Lake County -- writing emails both in support and opposition to the idea.
Carl Wagner of Arlington Heights thinks "just about everything about this plan is wrong. First, it should not be built as a toll road. Enough gas tax money is collected in Cook and Lake counties to build this road. I am tired of hearing that there just is not enough!
"Two, someone has proposed that the Route 53 extension be a four-lane parkway with a speed limit of 45 mph! That is about the stupidest idea I have heard in years. By now everyone should know that two lanes in each direction is not enough to handle the traffic. This should be a minimum of six lanes, and even better would be eight.
"Third, there is talk of converting the existing Route 53 freeway to a toll road. All I can say is No, no ... no. It is wrong and unprecedented to convert an existing freeway into a toll road. Any politician that speaks of such things will not have my vote in the future."
As a counterpoint, Nick Gregory of Lake Villa is fed up with talking about the project and thinks it's time to relieve congestion. "Sorry, but a few wetlands, swales, and a few homes just don't cut it anymore when we're talking about thousands of drivers every day trying to get to or from the present Route 53," he wrote. "Instead of an extension of Route 53 we have MORE traffic, congestion, travel time, accidents, breakdowns etc. on our other roads. Make sense?
"By the time anything actually gets started on extending Route 53, I'll be in the ground taking a 'dirt-nap.' In the meantime, all we'll get is more debates, more costly surveys, more of the same runaround that the taxpayers have been getting for years."
Bill Lankenau of Naperville took a global view. "Interstate highways, I presume, are built mainly with federal dollars," he wrote. "If that's true, then why are some of them tollways? I think interstates should be freeways. Maybe it's too late for existing highways, but wouldn't it be nice if future interstates were prohibited from charging tolls?
"A couple of examples for the future: the new Route 53 and the Illiana Expressway. If either of them get an interstate number, they should be free. If they are designated a state route or a U.S. route, then tolls would be permitted," Lankenau concluded.
And, Marty Madigan of Elk Grove Village offered an alternate design. "How about the option of extending Route 53 to Route 22?" he suggested. "Keep it simple and affordable. No tolls! And after 10 years, extend it to Route 83. And, after another 10 years extend it to Route 176. They did this when they extended Route 53 to Lake-Cook Road."
You should know
Suburban commuters to Chicago or O'Hare know the Blue Line's O'Hare Branch is no thrill ride. But changes are coming with $492 million in upgrades starting next year. Project highlights include: track and signal improvements that will help eliminate slow zones -- including work at the Rosemont and O'Hare stations; a better wireless infrastructure so Internet and phone service is more reliable, especially in tunnels, "new water management systems" that will mean less flooding at stations; and extensive station renovations at Grand, Chicago, Division, Damen, California, Logan Square and Jefferson Park. The changes will occur over the next four years incrementally, Chicago Transit Authority President Forrest Claypool said.
Speaking of Route 47, you can catch an entertaining three hours with IDOT engineers talking about improvements in the vicinity of Plato Road. Preliminary engineering designs and environmental studies will be presented during a forum from 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Central High School, 44W625 Plato Road, Burlington.