Acting IDOT secretary says tolls are the way to fund Kane, other highways

  • Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn told Kane County area leaders Friday more tolls are the future of Illinois transportation funding.

    Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn told Kane County area leaders Friday more tolls are the future of Illinois transportation funding. Courtesy of Rick Nagel, Kane County

  • Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn spoke as a member of a panel of state and local government leaders during a summit Friday in St. Charles. The panel members were, from left, Blankenhorn, Christopher Coes from Smart Growth America, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Director Jim Schultz, Elgin Mayor David Kaptain, and Bill Wyatt, Aurora's chief development services operator. Batavia Mayor Jeff Schielke served as moderator.

    Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn spoke as a member of a panel of state and local government leaders during a summit Friday in St. Charles. The panel members were, from left, Blankenhorn, Christopher Coes from Smart Growth America, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Director Jim Schultz, Elgin Mayor David Kaptain, and Bill Wyatt, Aurora's chief development services operator. Batavia Mayor Jeff Schielke served as moderator. Courtesy of Rick Nagel, Kane County

 
 
Updated 5/8/2015 10:30 PM

Acting Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn on Friday answered the question that's been on commuters' minds since the state's first three tollways opened in 1958: When will the tolls go away, as promised?

"Never," Blankenhorn told a gathering of Kane County leaders. "The existing tolls are going to be on the tollway. That's the way it's going to be. The truth is unless we are willing to put significantly more state and federal money into the system, tolls are going to be the way we fund the system. It's not going to be the only way, but it's going to be part of the package."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

That's exactly the opposite of what his audience wanted to hear.

Blankenhorn's statement came in response to a series of questions lobbed at him by about 200 Kane County-area government employees, elected officials and business owners at the Q Center in St. Charles. The same audience, which included Elgin Mayor David Kaptain and Batavia Mayor Jeff Schielke, took a live, interactive poll with questions from Kane County Department of Transportation officials.

The audience rated Kane County's transportation infrastructure as "Just OK" on the multiple-choice poll. The main problems to address are congestion, poor pavement condition and lack of access to all parts of the county, according to the audience poll.

When the audience was polled about how they generate new revenue to pay or the improvements needed, there was almost no support for more tolls. In fact, the most popular reply indicated no support for additional transportation revenue.

Of replies that would actually bring new cash to fund roads and bridges, tying motor fuel tax rates to inflation was the most acceptable solution.

Blankenhorn, calling himself "a user fee kind of guy," stuck to his support for existing and new tolls throughout his answers. The history of borrowing money to fund all segments of transportation, including ongoing maintenance, must end, he said.

"We've got to be able to pay for maintenance as we go," Blankenhorn said. "We need a stable funding source that grows. User fees, I think, have to be part of this solution. If we don't do something soon, we will have 5,000 miles of roadway in Illinois that will be in need of immediate repair. How long do we want to fund infrastructure on cigarette taxes and gambling?"

The good news for Kane and McHenry counties is that Blankenhorn's model for transportation funding matches plans for the Longmeadow Parkway. That project, on the north end of Kane County near the McHenry County border, is slated to have a tollway. The amount of the toll will depend on state and federal funds brought in to support the project. Blankenhorn said state budget cuts will not impact any pending Kane County projects.

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