Tollway losing millions with traffic drop, but not ready to curtail construction

  • The Illinois tollway is bleeding cash with drivers staying at home thanks for COVID-19. The agency says passenger volume is down 55% since the stay-at-home order went into effect March 20.

    The Illinois tollway is bleeding cash with drivers staying at home thanks for COVID-19. The agency says passenger volume is down 55% since the stay-at-home order went into effect March 20. Daily Herald File Photo

 
 
Posted4/13/2020 5:30 AM

One bittersweet benefit of hunkering down at home is how the once-monthly "your I-PASS account has auto-replenished" email is dormant.

The reprieve in I-PASS charges is perversely welcome yet disturbing, reflecting a free-fall in traffic since the state issued a stay-at-home order March 20 to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Passenger car traffic on toll roads went off the cliff, which means the agency is losing millions in revenues every week.

"During the two weeks of activity on our roadways under the stay-at-home order, estimates indicate passenger volume was over 55% lower than forecast, and commercial traffic was 9% lower than forecast," tollway spokesman Dan Rozek said.

So what will that mean for the agency's $1.46 billion road work program in 2020? The agenda includes $446.9 million toward widening the Central Tri-State Tollway and $559.6 million for planning and extending I-390 (formerly the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway) east.

"Clearly we are experiencing significant impacts to revenues based solely on the traffic declines; however, it is too soon to report that revenue impacts will substantially impact project schedules," Rozek said.

"At this time our position will allow the tollway to pursue all of its planned construction projects for 2020. That said, as circumstances evolve we will continue to reevaluate our short- and long-term capital expenditures."

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One more thing

What does a 55% drop in toll transactions from passenger vehicles equal in dollars?

In the first three months of 2019, for comparison, the tollway received about $336 million from cars and trucks.

In Transit pulled out the calculator, dove into the tollway's 126-page annual financial report and surfaced five hours later with an estimate of about $16 million in lost tolls over two weeks from passenger traffic.

Tollway officials would not comment on the estimate.

You should know

As for the Illinois Department of Transportation, a sizable chunk of road cash comes from the gas tax, currently 38 cents a gallon. It's expected revenues plummeted in March, although figures aren't in yet. And don't forget as the Secretary of State's office remains closed, vehicle fees designated for roads are also in limbo.

The American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials is already sounding the alarm. AASHTO leaders wrote Congress last week requesting $50 billion to offset "at least a 30 percent loss in state transportation revenues in the next 18 months."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Your voice

Highway and road construction are deemed essential work by state and federal authorities during the COVID-19 crisis. But why, a reader asked, are projects such as the Des Plaines aquatic park continuing?

"Public works construction is exempt" from Gov. J.B. Pritzker's stay-at-home order, said Des Plaines Park District Executive Director Donald Miletic.

The district also "has put in safety measures for workers.

The 28,000-square-foot building provides for adequate separation for the two to 12 on-site tradesmen and the interior construction is expected to be completed within the next two months."

Got a transportation question or comment? Drop an email to mpyke@dailyherald.com.

Gridlock alert

Speaking of road work, it's springing up like dandelions.

• Hoffman Estates drivers should expect delays on Higgins Road on the CN Railroad bridge starting Monday through June. Workers are repairing the bridge deck.

• Drivers on the northbound Tri-State will see traffic down from four to three lanes at I-57 as construction accelerates on a ramp. The structure will connect northbound I-294 and I-57; work continues through 2020.

Drive safe

Pace is installing vinyl shields to separate its drivers and passengers in the COVID-19 era of social distancing. Barriers will be installed on all 736 of the bus agency's fixed routes.

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