Higher tolls for trucks coming in 2015

The Illinois tollway's draft 2015 budget gets a bump from a toll increase on trucks dating back to an ill-fated "green lanes" project from the Rod Blagojevich era.

The extra cash from truckers will help boost toll revenues by $155 million in 2015. The tollway's proposed budget next year is $1.17 billion compared to $1.02 billion this year, officials said at a Wednesday finance committee meeting. The $1.17 billion includes operating and maintenance, debt sevice and road replacement and renewal costs.

The agency plans to spend $1.63 billion on capital improvements in 2015, mostly on the Move Illinois road program, which includes an I-57/Tri-State Tollway interchange, widening the Jane Addams Tollway and extending the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway east.

In 2008, former tollway officials backed a $1.8 billion road program that included interchanges at I-57 and the Tri-State plus I-90 and Route 53/I-290 as well as "green lanes" intended for carpools or single occupants paying a premium. The revenues were secured by a toll increase on trucks set for 2015, 2016 and 2017.

The "green lanes" never materialized after the chief proponent, former Gov. Blagojevich, was ousted, and leadership at the tollway turned over.

But the toll hike remained in place. Truckers were spared in 2012 when the tollway raised I-PASS rates for cars from 80 to 90 percent to fund Move Illinois.

At the average toll plaza, truckers will see tolls jump by 40 percent in 2015, then by 10 percent in 2016 and another 10 percent in 2017. That means a large truck using an I-PASS that's charged $4 at the Elgin Toll Plaza now would pay $5.60 in 2015.

Truckers are prepared but not enthused, Mid-West Truckers Association Executive Vice President Don Schafer said.

"The industry's got to look at its options," Schafer said. "Somewhere, someone has to absorb the toll increase. I suppose somewhere along the line, the shipper or the consumer will pay."

Some truckers will use local roads to avoid the higher rates, but not many, Schafer thinks.

"There's no option outside the tollway for efficient travel through Chicago," he said. "No one disagrees the pavement or conditions are better than anywhere else in Illinois. I'm not saying you're stuck, but you're pretty much stuck."

"Truckers will be getting a much greater benefit from Move Illinois than they would have from the 2008 proposed program with the same rate increase," tollway spokeswoman Wendy Abrams said.

"For example, the new I-90 corridor is projected to accommodate more than 15,000 trucks carrying 375,000 tons of freight per day. In all, it will save drivers $440 million annually due to reduced congestion and delays."

The Elgin-O'Hare extension will reduce travel time from the west, Abrams added, noting truck tolls haven't increased since 2005.

The budget also includes new dynamic messaging signs, better cameras at toll plazas and $6 million on plans for the Route 53 extension. The Route 53 project hasn't been approved by the tollway yet.

The tollway board will vote on the budget in December.

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