Yes, and no to tolling freeways ... but mostly no
So tell me how you really feel about converting tollways into freeways.
I kid. Actually, I received an explosion of emails, none of them neutral on this hot topic.
As a quick recap, the existing section of the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway will be converted into a tollway when the road is finally extended to the airport. And, the Illinois tollway is studying whether it should undertake building an extension of Route 53 into Lake County up to Route 120. Funding for that project could involve establishing tolls on the stretch of Route 53 between Lake Cook Road and I-90.
So here's what you had to say on the subject, starting with Don Bekeleski of Elk Grove, who was aghast by the proposed 20-cent-per-mile toll on Route 53.
"I can tell you right now, myself and many, many others will switch to local streets to avoid those tolls!" Bekeleski wrote. "When I go up north if I use the new 53 extension all the way to Route 120, it will cost me about $12 one way -- $24 with my return trip. Do you know how much gas I can get for that?"
• But George Flaherty of Hawthorn Woods thinks it's a small price for less stress.
"Why can't we pay for tolls until the road cost is paid off?" Flaherty asked. "The argument is usually maintenance, etc., but it could be a temporary spike in tolls with a reduction later on to cover repairs.
"In talking to many people in Lake County -- they are so tired of sitting in traffic the cost of the toll will probably save money or break even because you won't be sitting idle wasting gas. Plus, how about the benefit of less stress and the dream of getting home earlier? It's all worth the extra 50 cents or more."
• Kent Locke of Fox River Grove just wants to "stop the madness."
"If you cannot pay for it, do not build it and maintain it," he wrote.
Locke referenced promises that tollways would be in existence only until the road was paid for. "It will never be paid for and the tolls will never end," he added. "(It's the) same as the Illinois lottery (and pledges that) 'lottery funds will go toward education.' Follow up, please? "We should not have to pay a dime more to make a GREEN road. I do not want to pay extra to make the road GREEN. This issue has been ongoing too long and is not the right project. Time to move on with some new, 2015 ideas instead of living in the past. Let's build a freeway around the outlying corridors connecting I-80 to I-88 to I-90 and then to the north. I would throw $2 billion at this."
• John Nelson of Barrington thinks the private sector could do a better job. "Sell the tollway system to a private company, sell Route 53 and the Elgin-O'Hare links to the private company. Illinois could use the money. Let the new company charge tolls and add new toll roads where needed and viable," Nelson concluded.
• Luz Ellison says it's up to Lake County to finance Route 53.
"I have lived in Hanover Park for many years," she wrote. "Numerous times a day I jump on and off the Elgin-O'Hare to go to my mother's house, the grocery store, to take my child to school, to work in the city. My son uses it to go to work near Woodfield Mall. This road is an entrenched link in the daily lives of our local communities.
"Now because some politicians have illusions of grandeur, they want the rest of us to pay for it. I can respect Lake County's needs. Nevertheless, if Lake County wants to extend the freeway, then they should pay for it with Lake County tax dollars. If my neighbor wants to build an extension on their home, no one would expect the neighbors to pay for it. Extending the Elgin-O'Hare would not bring additional benefits to Bartlett, Hanover Park or Schaumburg. So we should not be extorted to pay for it."
• Rich Hansen can't believe the tollway will make him pay to see his mother. "Driving on Route 53 is something I do all the time," he said. "Be it work-related, or for personal reasons. I just can't imagine that road becoming a tollway. I'm in Schaumburg, and my mom is in Palatine. So now I would have to pay a toll just to visit her. I don't think so. I'll just start taking side roads to get there."
• The last word goes to Mike Asquini of Arlington Heights who thinks the question is, "Who enjoys the greatest benefit from extending Route 53 north into Lake County?" He answered with, "Lake County benefits from the extension, by lowering the congestion on their roads, and by providing easier access for Lake County residents to jobs they hold in Cook County (while residing in Lake County, paying Lake County taxes). I don't see any need I would have for using an extended Route 53 into Lake County, as that county is largely residential, with the housing boom of the '90s turning cornfields into subdivisions.
"Thousands of people use Route 53 daily as part of their commute into Chicago for work, never once straying into Lake County. Why should all those people fund a project that will benefit another county, one that seems unwilling to pay for something that would help themselves.
"If roadway congestion is such a problem in Lake County (it is), then maybe the mayors of all those towns should have considered adding the cost of improving their infrastructure to the contractors who slapped up those massive 400-home subdivisions.
"I say NO to any tolls on Route 53, and also call for the original agreement regarding our existing tollways to be abided by, the one that stipulated all toll booths would come down once the roads were paid for. Honestly, I won't be holding my breath waiting for sanity to prevail, on any of the items mentioned above. It's all too easy to dream big when you are spending other people's money."
"It wasn't me, it was my crazy son-in-law."
If you're facing a violation notice from the Illinois tollway and are in no way responsible, the agency is offering a new online feature to ease the appeal process. Drivers with an undeserved fine can go online to illinoistollway.com/tolls-and-i-pass and download an affidavit that can be mailed back with supporting documents to the tollway. You'll be able to check off a box with common excuses such as: vehicle was sold, vehicle was stolen, vehicle was driven by ex-spouse, etc. The affidavit will be evaluated and a response mailed out. The service should be available in July. Tollway officials said it should save drivers calls to the customer service center.
If you're going anywhere near Northern Illinois University in DeKalb in the next month, watch out for detours at the main exit onto Annie Glidden Road. The bridge taking traffic to and from the eastbound Reagan Memorial Tollway (I-88) will close Tuesday. Eastbound exit and entrance ramps to the tollway will be shut down, too. The bridge deck will be rebuilt at a cost of $60 million. Detours onto Route 38 will be posted. For more info, go to illinoistollway.com/construction-and-planning/projects-by-roadway.
I have to admit when I'm in an airport I'm usually stressed, which means consuming caffeine or a stiff drink. If I'm eating, it means a delay, which is not a good thing. But O'Hare International Airport is a contender for Budget Travel magazine's "People's Choice" Awards including Best Airport Food. The airport has been spiffing up its culinary offerings with wine bars and restaurants run by top chefs such as Rick Bayless. Chicago Department of Aviation folks are urging travelers to visit budgettravel.com/contest/readers-choice and vote for good old ORD. (Insert your own joke about Chicago elections).
Off to Walley WorldExpect a whopping 7 million vehicles to have traveled on the Illinois tollway system this holiday weekend. The agency is suspending construction work to help keep traffic moving through Tuesday. The heaviest travel day was Friday as people surged out of town. Tollway officials projected Friday's count at 1.6 million vehicles compared to the usual 1.4 million average.