Where is I-55 expansion plan with tolled express lanes heading?
A plan to add lanes to gridlock-prone I-55 in Chicago and the suburbs has suddenly gained traction -- and criticism -- after years of obscurity.
In the waning days of the legislative session, state lawmakers approved a resolution that lets the Illinois Department of Transportation pursue a public-private partnership to create express toll lanes from I-355 near Bolingbrook to the Dan Ryan Expressway.
It originates from an IDOT study during Gov. Bruce Rauner's tenure that concluded toll lanes with dynamic pricing were the best alternative to fix traffic jams on the corridor.
Although common in states from Texas to Washington, tolled lanes on the same corridor with free ones would be a first for Illinois.
Not only does the project give drivers options, but it would also move trucks faster, said state Rep. Marty Moylan, chairman of the House Transportation: Regulations, Roads and Bridges Committee.
"When they're stuck on the expressway for hours, they're spewing diesel into the air. This will help keep them moving," the Des Plaines Democrat said.
Many Republicans, including Rosemont Mayor and state Rep. Bradley Stephens, also signed on.
"I am all for roadway projects that will address gridlock and traffic congestion as this project does by increasing the amount of lanes within the existing footprint," Stephens said.
The plan involves one managed lane in each direction on I-55 between I-355 and I-294, and two lanes in each direction east of I-294 to I-90/94.
Community and environmental activists warn it would drastically increase emissions from vehicles in neighborhoods near I-55, such as Little Village, which already has high air pollution and asthma levels.
"The problem with adding capacity is induced demand -- you end up encouraging more people to drive and congestion gets worse," Environmental Law and Policy Center Deputy Director Kevin Brubaker said.
Sen. Mary Edly-Allen was among a handful opposing the legislation that was strongly backed by construction and labor lobbies.
"It really appears to be adversely affecting minority populations that are already struggling with high levels of air pollution," the Libertyville Democrat said.
The ultimate decision, however, is up to IDOT and Gov. J.B. Pritzker. Neither gave a definitive thumbs-up.
"The governor looks forward to reviewing the proposal," Pritzker spokesman Alex Gough said.
IDOT "is not pursuing these plans at this time and will be reviewing and evaluating next steps," spokeswoman Maria Castaneda noted.
Illinois tollway Executive Director Cassaundra Rouse had no comment.
Variables to watch include dynamic pricing that typically charges more during rush hour and whether carpoolers could hop on for free.
Also in flux is the project price: In 2018, costs were estimated to be $812 million based on 2021 dollars. So far, "funding for the construction has never been identified," Castaneda said.
Another gray area is the public-private partnership. Details are scant other than optimistic wording in the resolution stating such a partnership enables IDOT to deliver "the safest, most efficient, and most cost-effective" project.
However, former tollway director and state Sen. Bill Morris cautioned "anytime you do the 'public-private partnership,' there's the thing called profit that has to be figured in."
He also questioned the need for a third party when the Illinois tollway has "got the money and they have the expertise." The hitch might be "politically no one wants to designate a part of Chicago as a tollway," Morris said.
One more thing
Cook County recently completed a Bike Plan that sets ambitious goals such as adding 90 miles of off-street trails, 150 miles of side paths and about 230 miles of on-street bike routes. The aim is for 96% of Cook residents to have a bike path less than one mile from their homes. For information, go to cookcountyil.gov/bikeplan.
Drivers in Lincolnshire can expect delays starting Wednesday morning when the Metra Milwaukee District North Line crossing at Half Day Road closes for repairs. Work should wrap up by June 14.