Tollway revenue drop reflects how many staying at home during COVID-19

  • Morning traffic on I-90 west of Route 25 in Elgin on Oct. 8 was relatively light compared to norms before the COVID-19 pandemic. The Illinois tollway is dealing with revenues shortages related to the pandemic.

      Morning traffic on I-90 west of Route 25 in Elgin on Oct. 8 was relatively light compared to norms before the COVID-19 pandemic. The Illinois tollway is dealing with revenues shortages related to the pandemic. John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 10/16/2020 2:39 PM

The Illinois tollway's 2021 tentative budget anticipates a continued impact from the COVID-19 pandemic as officials predict toll revenues will be $67 million below 2019 levels.

But the agency's road construction program will forge ahead in 2021 with a focus on design and preparatory work on I-490, a ring road on the western side of O'Hare International Airport.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The tollway's 2021 budget proposal was presented at a virtual Thursday board meeting and will be voted on in December.

Planners originally budgeted $1.49 billion in revenues from tolls in 2020 but expect that will drop by $255 million to $1.24 billion, as thousands of Illinoisans worked from home, lost their jobs or avoided trips as a result of the virus. In comparison, tolls in 2019 came to $1.46 billion.

Next year, the agency estimates it will receive more than $1.39 billion in tolls, which includes an increase for trucks. Additional revenues include about $20 million from investments, concessions at oases and miscellaneous income.

The 2021 tentative budget is balanced and calls for nearly $1.42 billion in spending, with $380 million going to operations and maintenance, $468 million for debt payments, and $567 million for road building and improvements. In 2020, the tollway budgeted $380 million for operations and maintenance, which included salaries.

The agency's tentative head count decreases from 1,462 in 2020 to 1,434 in 2021. However, while some divisions, such as toll operations, are down by 51 toll collector positions, the administration, information technology and procurement departments added 38 jobs collectively, the plan indicates.

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The capital budget for 2021 is $1.53 billion, with $451 million earmarked for planning and advance work on I-490 and access to O'Hare's western flank, plus interchanges with the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90) near Des Plaines, Tri-State Tollway (I-294) near Franklin Park, and Route 390, the former Elgin-O'Hare Expressway.

An additional $690 million will continue expansion of the Central Tri-State, and $78 million is allocated for the I-294 and I-57 interchange.

Virtual hearings on the budget will be at noon and 6 p.m. Nov. 4. For more information, visit illinoistollway.com.

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