Tollway chief talks more tolls and Route 53 extension

The Illinois Tollway is ready and willing to assist with new infrastructure or adopt existing freeways as the federal government considers easing restrictions on interstate tolling, Chairman Robert Schillerstrom said Monday.

President Donald Trump's recently released infrastructure program recommends allowing states more flexibility to levy tolls on interstates and easing restrictions on the use of toll revenues.

Schillerstrom told members of the City Club of Chicago the agency's been approached by Kane County about tolling on its Long Meadow Parkway project and by Will County about tolling a bridge over the Des Plaines River in Joliet as well as I-80.

"Tolling provides funding where motor fuel taxes are declining," Schillerstrom said. "The tollway stands ready to make sure Illinois is ready to take advantage of national funding initiatives."

The plan also offers financial aid to states and municipalities that show they are raising money for infrastructure projects by measures such as increased tolling. The funding would be awarded on a competitive basis.

The state is already moving to add tolled express lanes to I-55 in DuPage and Cook counties and is considering its options on the congested Eisenhower Expressway.

Schillerstrom signaled he's positive about the future of a controversial extension of Route 53 north into Lake County. Towns in Lake County are split over the proposal, and a lawsuit was filed against the tollway seeking to halt a $25 million environmental impact study.

"Some say, 'Do nothing,'" Schillerstrom said. "If we do nothing, the average travel speed will be 14 mph. We're working on developing an alternative that's good for families, good for job creators and for the environment."

Schillerstrom also promised to "accelerate" work on road projects this year, which would include the Route 390 extension, by pumping more money into the 2018 program and taking advantage of a competitive construction market.

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