Increased enforcement, legislative effort take aim at truckers on U.S. 41

| 3/1/2005

Truckers north of Chicago have become targets as Illinois officials take actions intended to cut big rig traffic on U.S. 41.

A number of truckers have diverted onto U.S. 41 after Illinois more than doubled tolls on the nearby Tri-State Tollway, which carries Interstate 94 to the Wisconsin border. U.S. 41 parallels the interstate through suburban Lake County. The increased truck traffic, according to state Sen. Susan Garrett, D-Lake Forest, has raised the ire of many local residents.

In response, the Illinois State Police have increased their patrols along U.S. 41. More weigh stations were added in January, and truckers have reported increased inspections.

In addition, State Police officers assigned to commercial enforcement said on Feb. 24 that they will conduct “special inspection details” and use portable scales on the road. The officials did not specify when the efforts would begin, but truckers say the stepped up enforcement has already begun.

“We’re increasing patrols on local roads to make sure trucks are respecting state and local traffic laws,” Illinois State Police Director Larry Trent said in a written statement.

Other State Police officials said in the same written statement that they were acting under the direction of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The governor released a statement saying there have been complaints from residents about commercial trucks.

“As major changes to the Tollway get under way, we’ve heard from local residents who are concerned about the short-term impact on local traffic flow – especially from commercial trucks,” Blagojevich said in a news release.

OOIDA member Brian Calhoun, Grayslake, IL, said he had seen the increased enforcement on U.S. 41 firsthand.

“I have seen it big time,” he said. As he and his wife were traveling the highway in their car on a recent Saturday night, he saw two trucks at a weigh station undergoing full inspections.

“Two state troopers, they had two trucks pulled into the scale, and they had the doors open, going through the truck and everything,” he said. “It had to have been like 6:30 at night … and the scales are never open on 41 on weekends.”

Calhoun has also recently seen scales open at odd hours like 4:30 a.m. doing full DOT inspections.

“They’ve never done that before,” Calhoun said.

However, the increase enforcement activity is only part of the picture. As the state senator who represents the area, Sen. Garrett says she plans to take action at the state capital that would affect all trucks traveling the road.

Legislation in the works

Sen. Garrett, who represents part of the area north of Chicago where U.S. 41 passes, has long been concerned about truck traffic on the road. She recently formed a Transportation Task Force to collect data regarding truck traffic along U.S. 41 in the wake of the toll increases, the State Police said.

Now, the senator says she will take further steps. She plans to introduce a bill that would restrict trucks to the right lane on any four-lane or larger state highway in Illinois that has residential intersections and cross streets.

The bill is being spurred in part by the situation on U.S. 41. But Garrett, who recently conducted a series of town hall meetings in her district, said that the issue was around long before the recent situation.

Restricting trucks to the right lane is “the most common request I get regarding truck issues,” she said. “I’m hearing it more now because of Route 41.”

Garrett said that until recent times, trucks in the state were restricted to the far right lane. Her constituents “feel by and large that it makes the roads much safer,” and would like to see a return of that restriction.

U.S. 41 is a federal highway, and Garrett’s proposal would place the right-lane restriction on “state highways.” But the senator said that it was her understanding that Illinois had jurisdiction over parts of U.S. 41, giving the state the ability to enact the restriction. She hopes to start work on a bill in the next couple of months, but first “we need to get the exact language.”

The senator said she knew the proposal would not stop the increase in truck traffic through her district.

“People understand that there will most likely be more truck traffic coming through our communities; they know that that’s going to be reality,” she said.

Tolls drive trucks to 41

Trucker started to change their routes to U.S. 41 after a new set of higher toll rates officially went into effect Jan. 1 along all the roads in the Illinois Tollway system.

Tollway officials approved the plan Sept. 30, said Joelle McGinnis, press secretary for the Illinois Tollway.

However, rates for truckers still more than doubled.

During late night hours, truckers pay $3 at each gate. During most daytime hours, truckers using I-Pass pay $3, while cash-carrying truckers pay $4.

All truckers pay $4 during morning and evening rush hours, when the Tollway’s routes are clogged with commuters in the Chicago area.

The toll is charged at each toll plaza a truck passes through. On the Tri-State Tollway, truckers must pass through five.

The increase originally was going to be higher. In August, Gov. Blagojevich proposed nearly quadrupling the tolls truckers pay. However, that plan was scaled back to the current increase, in part due to efforts by Garrett after she expressed concern about increased traffic that could divert onto U.S. 41.

Garrett’s concerns were born out in February after Chicago-area media outlets reported that the Tollway system had seen an 8 percent decline in the number of trucks since it implemented the toll hike.

Altogether, the system saw a 7.7 percent drop in truck traffic. But The Chicago Sun-Times reported that on two of the tollway’s roads, that drop exceeded 10 percent. One of those was the Northwest Tollway.

– By Mark H. Reddig, associate editor