Pyke: Could tolls go up based on inflation?

  • Who will pay to extend Route 53? Indexing toll rates, a 4-cent per gallon gasoline tax hike and congestion tolling are among the ideas to fund the $2.65 billion project.

      Who will pay to extend Route 53? Indexing toll rates, a 4-cent per gallon gasoline tax hike and congestion tolling are among the ideas to fund the $2.65 billion project. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer, October 2008

 
 
Updated 3/30/2015 6:58 AM

In the midst of zzzzz-inducing language like "travel demand models" in a wonky 27-page report on extending Route 53 into Lake County is an idea guaranteed to wake you up.

"Indexing and congestion pricing of tolls are strategies recommended for the proposed (Route 53 extension) as a pilot for eventual implementation along the entire tollway system," it states.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Wait a minute.

If calculating tolls based on the consumer price index works on the future Route 53 extension, could we see indexing carried over to existing toll roads? And what does Illinois tollway leadership think of that recommendation by Lake County officials?

"I think we're always open to pilot projects," Chairman Paula Wolff said.

"We're always interested in seeing how we can combine the needs of the tollway to maintain the system with the demand that the customers have. I'm happy to have a pilot always on things that make sense."

Wolff added, "the board obviously hasn't acted on this yet."

The idea of indexing toll rates is among several game-changers recommended by finance committee members on an Illinois tollway Route 53 advisory group seeking to shrink a massive budget gap. The proposed four-lane 45 mph road would stretch up to Route 120.

Here are other suggestions:

• Paying for the expansion project with a 4-cent per gallon gas tax increase across Lake County, which needs state approval, and split proceeds between Route 53 and other roads, such as Route 41.

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So far, there have been no "red flags" from Springfield, Lake County Chairman Aaron Lawlor said. "We're looking for Lake County to be treated like every other county in the region that gets the motor fuel tax," he said.

• Using congestion pricing, which usually means higher tolls on certain lanes in rush hour.

• Adding a new toll plaza, possibly at the site of the extinct Deerfield one. Tweaking tolls at numerous Northwest suburban locations on the Tri-State. Those might include: Grand Avenue, Milwaukee Avenue, Route 120, Lake-Cook Road, Willow Road.

• Institute a special taxing district along the Route 53 corridor in Lake.

You can expect the advisory group to go into details at a tollway board meeting in the near future.

The finance committee's ideas, plus tolls of 20 cents a mile on the new road, could generate $745 million to $993 million. That still leaves a sizable gap since the project could cost up to $2.65 billion.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The cost is high, in part, because of features such as lowering the road to protect wetlands and prairie nearby.

All bets are off on what the tollway board will do, especially since a number of directors' terms expire this year and appointments are up to Gov. Bruce Rauner.

But Lawlor was hopeful after reaching consensus from the committee of elected officials, environmentalists and businesses.

"When we started, if you told me we'd have 21-2 (voting for the report), I'd have said 'no way that will happen.'"

Got an opinion on indexing tolls or anything else? Email me at mpyke@dailyherald.com.

Your voice

Lots of reaction rolled in from readers on the tollway's plan to raise speeds to 60 mph and 65 mph on certain roads in contrast to a state law requiring 70 mph.

Cyclist Terry Witt of Bartlett writes, "It may be true that everyone is doing it, but that should not be the criteria to raise speed limits to 70 mph. If there is to be a bandwagon to jump on, it should be to stop killing people on the highways. Lower speed limits have contributed to that end. I can attest to the fact that driving 70 mph and being passed by everyone also contributes to an unsafe condition."

But Bob Randall of Bloomingdale says, "when I used to drive the Tri-State between North Ave and Route 137 every day for several years most cars were generally traveling at 70 mph and higher. When I drove I-355 between Army Trail Road and Butterfield Road cars were generally traveling at 70 mph and higher, unless there was a state trooper lurking on a shoulder somewhere. Very few drivers, including large trucks, are traveling at 55 mph.

"If you don't want to get run over, you drive with the flow of traffic. Why do the tollway directors want to make everyone drive 55 mph or 60 mph when the majority travel these roads at 70 mph or higher?"

Gridlock alert

No, it's not April Fools. It really is roadwork starting again on the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway project. Expect temporary overnight full closures on Mittel Drive at Thorndale Avenue in Wood Dale between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. Wednesday through Friday.

Closures should last no longer than 15 minutes each, promise.

Distracted driving 411

Is distracted driving really a big deal? What laws do different states have? Can my brain really multitask? And should my workplace have a policy? What a lot of questions. Get them answered by tuning into the National Transportation Safety Board's webcast of a national forum, "Disconnect from Deadly Distractions." The event is at 9 a.m. Tuesday. To learn more, go to www.ntsb.gov/Pages/default.aspx.

Upcoming

Starved for information about the Jane Addams (I-90) widening project?

You can hang with tollway engineers at a project open house from 4 to 7 p.m. April 8 at the Des Plaines Public Library, 1501 Ellinwood St.

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