Free ride ending on Elgin-O'Hare when tolls start in July

Regulars say they'll stop using the expressway

John Brady has lived I-PASS-free for years, but something's got to give come July.

That's when the tolling starts on the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway (Route 390). Tolls of 20 cents a mile between the road's western terminus and I-290 will end its existence as a freeway.

“I'm going to avoid it like the plague,” Brady, of Hanover Park, said.

Drivers without transponders who do venture onto Route 390 should be advised they'll pay double what I-PASS owners do. The cash rate to travel 6.5 miles from Lake Street to I-290 on the all-electronic road is $2.50, compared to $1.25 for people with transponders.

Adding to their underdog status, cash customers will have to pay by mail or online to avoid penalties since there are no collectors or buckets to accept money.

Faced with those realities, Brady said, “I will probably have to get an I-PASS for when I've got relatives in from out of town and I need to drive to the airport.”

But he's not happy.

For its part, the Illinois tollway hopes drivers will embrace the improved Elgin-O'Hare. Upgrades, such as a new interchange at I-290 instead of the old signalized intersection, provide a rationale for its metamorphosis into a toll road, which required federal approval.

The percentage of drivers sans I-PASSes is estimated to be relatively small, tollway spokesman Dan Rozek said.

“Our surveys have shown that 90 percent of drivers currently traveling in the Elgin-O'Hare corridor have I-PASS, and of those without I-PASS, nearly one-quarter indicated that they would obtain one to use the new roadway once it opens,” he said.

Systemwide, there are about 2.3 million daily toll transactions; 10 percent were cash in 2015.

The ongoing eastern extension of Route 390 from I-290 to Route 83 wraps up in 2017. The final segment - a somewhat nebulous entrance into O'Hare International Airport from York Road in Bensenville - is next. Eventually, Route 390 will link with a ring road around O'Hare's western edge that connects with the Tri-State Tollway in Franklin Park and I-90 near Des Plaines. That combination will be a game-changer for suburbanites, planners say.

The tollway is giving the I-PASS-free crowd a 30-day window to pay missed tolls after collection goes live. Then it will revert to seven days to pay. Three missed tolls in two years equals a violation and triggers a $10 fine. Elsewhere on the system, fines are $20 per violation.

  No tolls taken yet, but starting in July, expect to pay to travel on the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway between Lake Street and I-290. Marni Pyke/

The tollway hasn't set an exact day for the freeway conversion, so stay tuned.

The entire project will cost about $3.4 billion, one reason tolls are three times the average 6 cents a mile.

Do you plan to use or avoid Route 390 once it's tolled? Drop me an email at

<h3 class="leadin">One more thing

Speaking of tolling freeways, state Rep. David Harris of Arlington Heights tells me legislation to that effect on the Stevenson Expressway (I-55) is making its way through the General Assembly. The Illinois Department of Transportation wants to widen the gridlocked corridor but has no cash for that type of project. The resolution would allow IDOT to partner with a private company to add a lane in each direction of I-55 between I-355 and the Dan Ryan Expressway. The result would be a tolled express lane that could allow for carpooling. The proposal is House Joint Resolution 125.

<h3 class="leadin">Your voice

“When I went to the website and entered my VIN, I did not find anything that says when or if emissions testing is due.”

“I went to the website ... I found info about my vehicle but nothing about the possible need for testing. Have you checked it out? Am I missing something?”

My inbox was full of questions about how to find when vehicles are due for an emissions test after the state suspended mailing reminders. This state website worked for me:

It gives you the option of plugging in your VIN or license plate.

I received an “unknown” response initially when I typed in my VIN number - turns out the letter “O” I entered was actually a zero.

<h3 class="leadin">You should know

Ride-share pioneer Uber says it's gaining ground in the suburbs, providing more than 1 million trips in November, December and January.

In 2015, Uber activity nearly tripled in the collar counties.

The company got an extra push in 2015 when Chicago opened up the lucrative pickup market at O'Hare, limited previously to conventional taxi services.

<h3 class="leadin">Gridlock alert

Beam me up. It's going to be ugly this week starting in the afternoon and overnight on Hamilton Lakes Drive in Itasca as the tollway installs bridge beams for the Route 390 extension. Northbound lane closures start at 4 p.m., then it's game over with the entire road shutting down at 7 p.m. Traffic gets back to normal at 7 a.m.

Oil train numbers dip

Concerns about

oil train disasters and actual events such as an explosion near Galena a year ago dominated news in 2015. Interestingly, crude oil shipments by rail declined last year, although the volumes are still significant. In 2015, railroads moved 410,249 carloads of crude oil, a 16.8 percent decline from 2014 levels, which were 493,146. Crude oil comprised 1.4 percent of freight train loads in 2015.

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Tollway in transition

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Rauner wants private sector to help widen I-55, extra lane could be tolled

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