Pyke: Would you pay to drive faster on a freeway?

  • The Illinois Department of Transportation is considering options such as a tolled express lane or a carpool lane as part of its discussions about widening I-55 through parts of Cook and DuPage counties.

    The Illinois Department of Transportation is considering options such as a tolled express lane or a carpool lane as part of its discussions about widening I-55 through parts of Cook and DuPage counties. Daily Herald File Photo

 
 
Updated 12/7/2015 7:41 AM

Would you pay to get where you want to go faster?

That's the idea behind "managed lanes," an innocuous-sounding piece of wonkery that could signal a seismic shift in how we get around the region.

 

The term refers to measures such as carpool lanes or a tolled express lane that could become realities as the Illinois Department of Transportation looks at creating managed lanes on I-55 in Cook and DuPage counties. An open house on the issue is set for Wednesday.

Plans involve building another lane in each direction of I-55 between I-355 and the I-90/94 junction in Chicago, a 25-mile stretch of freeway along 16 municipalities.

Planners want to reduce congestion on the chronically jammed highway, which currently carries more than 180,000 vehicles daily from the Tri-State Tollway.

Here are some possibilities included in the managed lane scenario.

• Express Toll Lane. Translation -- you pay a toll to use this lane with the promise of a swift trip.

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• High Occupancy Vehicles lane. Translation -- a carpool lane that's restricted to carloads of more than just one person. Although the magic number hasn't been identified yet, IDOT is looking at a starting point of one driver and two passengers. The intent is for a win-win, guaranteeing faster trips for people in the HOV lane whose vehicles are now removed from the regular lanes, reducing traffic.

• High Occupancy Toll Lane. Translation -- an express lane for vehicles with more than one person that also can be used by solo drivers willing to pay for the privilege.

• Congestion Priced Lane. Translation -- Drivers pay a toll to use this express lane typically during morning and afternoon rush hours. Prices can vary depending on demand.

Such concepts are foreign here, but I remember using carpool lanes to escape gridlock on Los Angeles highways during a trip more than a decade ago. Other cities that play with managed lanes include Minneapolis, San Diego, Houston, Salt Lake City, Baltimore, Denver, Dallas and Fort Lauderdale.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

State Rep. David Harris thinks a tolled lane "could work IF one is guaranteed a fairly regular faster travel time."

"My comparison would be to the reversibles on the Kennedy Expressway," said Harris, an Arlington Heights Republican and Transportation Committee member. "While I think they are a good idea in terms of moving traffic, oftentimes there is not much travel improvement time using them versus the regular lanes. I am not sure how many drivers would be willing to pay a toll for a five- or six-minute travel advantage."

An IDOT survey found that 75 percent of people on the Stevenson drive alone, and 97 percent call traffic congestion disruptive.

It's likely another two years until decisions are made. But given IDOT's spent three years contemplating the subject, it sounds like a road to somewhere. And it doesn't take an expert to figure out that with no money in state coffers to pay for widening I-55, tolls are one way to do it.

You can talk managed lanes from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday during the open house at the Holiday Inn, 6201 Joliet Road, Countryside.

Meanwhile, drop me an email at mpyke@dailyherald.com if you've used express lanes, HOV, HOT or congestion priced lanes elsewhere.

Your voice

Last week's column about the Sept. 26, 2014, air traffic control facility sabotage in Aurora brought back memories for Susan Tyrell. The Elgin resident and her husband were at Midway Airport that morning, intending to fly out to see her daughter in a stage production in Seattle.

"Suddenly flights were being canceled one by one," Tyrell wrote. "The man next to me, who was on our flight, was already on his iPad trying to get another flight for later that day. When we heard that there may have been a fire, by that time ALL flights were canceled."

While her husband stood in line, she called the airline. "Two hours later I had a customer service rep getting us on a flight for the next day; he was about 25 people from the desk." The couple went home worried they might miss the show.

"When we got home I was NOT satisfied," Tyrell said. "I went online immediately, and miraculously found a flight on a different airline out of O'Hare for 8:45 p.m. Why was I so sure this flight would make it out, since we had heard the story on the news unfolding? I don't know -- I trusted there was a reason this was happening."

After more adventures, "we were there and meeting our daughter, as planned, for breakfast Saturday morning and seeing her show that night. Amazing."

Gridlock alert

Sorry Wood Dale. IDOT is closing two lanes in each direction of Irving Park Road at Wood Dale Road until November 2016. The intersection will get new right turn lanes on Irving Park when completed.

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