Illinois uses stimulus clout to finance Tollway improvements

| 11/25/2009

The Illinois Tollway plans to issue another $280 million in Build America Bonds to finance a program to upgrade toll roads and manage congestion.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is raising a red flag because Build America Bonds, which are part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, are being coupled with federal grants to subsidize toll roads.

“We support the concept of Build America Bonds and we understand the importance of good infrastructure, but we also keenly understand the impact of tolls on the economy and our wallets,” said Mike Joyce, director of legislative affairs for OOIDA.

“My gut tells me that this is another form of double taxation. The taxpayers are subsidizing these toll roads.”

As part of the bond program, the federal government has pledged to pay 35 percent of the interest.

According to the Tollway Authority, the congestion relief program involves rebuilding and restoring nearly all of the system’s 50-year-old roads at a cost of $6.3 billion.

Improvements include widening or adding lanes to existing roads and converting 20 mainline toll plazas to electronic tolling.

The Illinois Tollway currently manages 286 miles of toll roads in 12 counties in Northern Illinois, according to the Web site.

Roadways include the Reagan Memorial Tollway (I-88), the Veterans Memorial Tollway (I-355), the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90) and the Tri-State Tollway (I-94, I-294, I-80/I-294).

To date, the Tollway has issued approximately $3.5 billion in bonds for the program, including a $500 million issuance of Build America Bonds back in May.

– By David Tanner, staff writer