Illinois Tollway proposes expanded off-peak toll discounts, but rates still to double

| Wednesday, September 22, 2004

The Illinois Tollway is considering a plan that would scale back proposed toll increases on trucks, a spokeswoman for the agency told Land Line.

In August, Gov. Rod Blagojevich proposed nearly quadrupling the tolls truckers pay on the Illinois Tollway. Under that plan, the current toll for a five-axle tractor-trailer would have risen from $1.25 to $4. 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. Truckers would not have received a discount for I-Pass use.

The new proposal expands the discount by increasing the number of hours during which truckers can receive the off-peak rate, Joelle McGinnis, press secretary for Illinois tollway, said.

From 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., all truckers, either paying with cash of through I-Pass, will pay the lower $3 toll. Truckers with I-Pass will also pay the $3 rate from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on weekdays, from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays, and all weekend long.

All truckers using the toll roads would pay the full $4 from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. on weekdays – when the Tollway’s routes are clogged with commuters in the Chicago area.

Even the lower $3 rate will be double what truckers pay at each toll plaza now. The toll is charged at each toll plaza a truck passes through. On the Tri-State Tollway, truckers must pass through five.

The new version of the plan has not yet been approved, McGinnis said.

“The earliest the board could vote on it would be the 30th of this month (September),” she said. “All the rate changes, if approved, currently are scheduled to go into effect. Jan. 1.”

The Tollway created the plan after working with trucking industry officials and state Sen. Susan Garrett, D-Highwood, whose district includes part of the northern Chicago suburbs. Some residents of Garrett’s district had expressed concerns about increased truck traffic on non-interstate routes if trucks diverted off the Tollway to avoid the higher costs.

“We want to give truckers some relief, and we also want to reduce fears of diversion that some of the communities along the Tollway have,” McGinnis said. “But one of our biggest incentives is to get trucks to travel during off-peak hours, because the Illinois Tollway is a major commuter route.”

While all trucks will pay more, many four-wheelers will not. Most cars will pay 80 cents, double their current 40-cent toll, under the plan. However, car drivers who use the I-Pass system would pay the current toll of 40 cents.

A written statement 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 money raised by the increases is earmarked to 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.

The Tollway would also add the latest Intelligent Transportation Systems technology, which uses electronic billboards and other methods to communicate real-time traffic information to drivers.

The governor’s office 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 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. A recently passed measure would somewhat scale back the fee.

A number of trucking companies and individual owner-operators in Illinois have told Land Line the commercial distribution fee drove them to either close their doors or leave the state.

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” to see a list of links, including a list of toll rates by plaza.

- By Mark H. Reddig, associate editor
mark_reddig@landlinemag.com

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