Illinois Tollway leasing draws discussion

| 7/25/2006

Unions and watchdog groups met recently in Illinois to ask state lawmakers to reconsider leasing the state toll way system to a private company. Meanwhile, some supporters of the leasing concept said it would be irresponsible to spend some of any future lease windfall on state pension debt as proposed.

The sentiments were shared Thursday, July 20, in Grayslake, IL, during the third hearing on whether to lease the 274-mile system.

The Illinois Legislature isn’t expected to seriously consider the proposal until members gather for the regular session that begins in January 2007. However, among the many concerns that opponents have is how the potential lease revenue will be distributed.

Despite the concerns, lawmakers in support of the plan remain undeterred. They said they are confident that a state-funded study of the deal will relieve anxieties that include higher tolls and lost public control, the Daily Herald reported.

Later this summer, a financial firm is expected to wrap up a state-funded analysis of various ways to lease parts or all of the toll way system and how much money the deal could generate.

Illinois lawmakers led by Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, D-Evanston, started to look into the possibility of leasing the toll way shortly after Indiana netted $3.85 billion to lease its 152-mile stretch of Interstate 90 for 75 years. The city of Chicago brought in $1.83 billion in a similar 99-year deal for its East Side Skyway.

Some experts project that Illinois could rake in as much as $20 billion for the toll way system, the Daily Herald reported.