SPECIAL REPORT: Illinois proposes dramatic increase in truck rates on Tollway

| 8/27/2004

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has proposed nearly quadrupling the tolls truckers pay on the Illinois Tollway, the governor's office announced.

Under the plan, the current toll for a five-axle tractor-trailer would rise from $1.25 to $4, a spokeswoman for the Tollway said. If that truck passed through the tollbooth during off-peak hours - between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. - the toll would be $3, nearly triple the current rate.

Cars will pay 80 cents, double their current 40-cent toll. However, car drivers who use the I-Pass system would pay the current toll of 40 cents. Truckers would not be offered a similar discount for I-Pass use.

Tolls would run slightly higher at some toll plazas, including some on Interstate 355.

A trucker running the full length of the Tri-State Tollway, which runs through the Chicago metro area, would encounter five toll plazas. At four of those plazas, that trucker now pays $1.25; at the Waukegan toll plaza, that trucker now pays $2.40, bringing the total cost to $7.40.

If the governor's proposal is approved, that toll would increase at four of the plaza to $4, and to $7.50 at Waukegan, bringing the total cost of traveling the full length of the Tri-State to $23.50 - roughly three times the current cost.

The release from the governor's office was particularly blunt in justifying the increased truck rates.

"Nationwide, trucks are charged higher toll rates than cars because they cause the bulk of the wear and tear on highways," Blagojevich's office said in the release. "The damage caused by one truck equals that caused by 10,000 cars, so it is only fair that trucks pay more."

The release also claimed that ultimately, because of improvements in roads and technology, truckers would save money.

"With the additional reduction in trip time that will be provided by the long-range plan, truckers should still save more in operating costs then they spend in tolls," state officials wrote in the release.

The governor's office said in a release that the money raised by the increases would pay for a number of improvements, including repaving and widening of roads in the Tollway system, the south extension of Interstate 355, and an "open road tolling" system, which would allow I-Pass users to travel without slowing or stopping for tollbooths. Nearly two-thirds of the Tollways' roadways - 65 percent - have not been reconstructed since they were built in the late 1950s.

Reconstruction and resurfacing would occur on 90 percent of roads in the Tollway system, the governor's office said, with 117 miles of road being widened. The new "open road tolling" would be added to 116 toll lanes.

The Tollway would also add the latest Intelligent Transportation Systems technology, which uses electronic billboards and other methods to communicate real-time traffic information with drivers, allowing officials to better manage accidents and other road-clogging incidents and better coordinate such efforts with local transportation networks.

The new proposal is not the first time in recent years that Gov. Blagojevich and others in Illinois' state government have attempted to significantly increase costs for truckers in the state.

Last year, a new law created the Commercial Distribution Fee - a 36 percent surcharge added onto the state's truck registration fees. It also changed the rolling stock exemption. The law, passed as SB841, was signed by Gov. Blagojevich June 20, 2003.

The measure has perhaps been the most talked-about trucking-related measure in the state in recent years. A number of trucking companies and individual owner-operators in Illinois have told Land Line the fee drove them to either close their doors or leave the state.

Recently, several bills that would roll back the fee have made their way through the General Assembly, but none to date have been signed into law by Blagojevich.

Tollway officials said they plan to get input from the public in each of the 12 northeastern counties served by the system before any toll increase takes effect. If the Tollway Board approves the new toll rates, construction under the plan could begin late this year. Under that schedule, the new rates would take effect Jan. 1, 2005. 

Truckers can find more information on Gov. Blagojevich's Tollway plan at www.Illinoistollway.com. On the left side of the page, under the list of links titled "Agency Links," click on "Long-Range Plan." When that pages loads, click on the tab at the top that says "Financials"; that page contains a list of links, including a list of toll rates by plaza.

- by Mark H. Reddig, associate editor