Illinois toll increases a bitter reminder of Blagojevich era

By David Tanner, Land Line senior editor | Monday, December 29, 2014

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich may have been impeached and later sentenced to prison for corruption, but his legacy lives on in the form of steep toll hikes for truckers set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2015. The 40 percent truck-only toll increase on the Illinois Tollway System in 2015 dates back to a law signed by Blagojevich in 2008.

In addition to the 40 percent hike, the same law increases truck tolls 10 percent in 2016 and an additional 10 percent in 2017.

The toll increases on the 286-mile tollway system will hit truckers right where it hurts, says Don Schaefer, executive vice president of the Springfield, Ill.-based Mid-West Truckers Association.

“It leaves a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths, because this toll increase that we’re going to experience on Jan. 1 is the last vestige of an action that was done by now-imprisoned Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who had no love for the trucking industry,” Schaefer told Land Line Magazine.

“The Tollway under his administration, before he was indicted and removed from office, imposed this toll increase, which was not even going to take effect for years. What we’ve got, literally and figuratively, is what I call a phantom toll increase.”

Schaefer said while in office, Blagojevich also imposed a commercial distribution fee, gutted a sales tax exemption that interstate shippers and truckers benefited from, and “generally made the trucking industry’s life miserable.”

“We got beat up big time with this thing,” Schaefer said.

The Illinois Tollway Authority has posted a revised toll schedule online for the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90), the Tri-State Tollway (I-94/I-294/I-80), Reagan Memorial Tollway (I-88), Veterans Memorial Tollway (I-355) and their designated interchanges.

The schedule includes the approved toll rates through 2017 as well. Starting in 2018, toll increases on the Illinois Tollway System will be indexed to the rate of inflation.

Toll rates vary depending on time of day. Overnight rates from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. are cheaper than daytime rates from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

“They price your tolls depending on where you’re going and what time of day you’re going,” Schaefer said. “It won’t be uncommon for a truck operator who must run the Tollway to spend $100 in a day.”

That hurts the small-business operator harder than the big companies, he adds. The era of just-in-time delivery and limited flexibility in hours-of-service regulations hold some truckers hostage to pay higher daytime rates.

“Grain haulers hauling to O’Hare have no choice. There’s no other way to get in, and no other way to get out,” Schaefer said.

“We knew this was coming and we’ve been talking about it, but what are we going to get for the increased tolls?” asks Schaefer, who was part of a 27-member Tollway transition team that formed after Blagojevich was impeached.

Schaefer says the post-Blagojevich leadership of the Tollway Authority is running a tight ship, is looking into truck-parking shortages, and operates some of the best-maintained roads in Illinois, but the truckers must still pay a premium to use those roads.

“With all of the problems they’ve had with the Tollway System, they do run it well. It just hurts,” Schaefer said.

Chicago Skyway tolls also increasing
The publicly operated Illinois Tollway System is not the only toll road in Illinois, nor is it the only one facing toll increases. The privately operated Chicago Skyway is also increasing tolls on Jan. 1, 2015.

A five-axle truck running the nearly 8-mile Skyway will soon pay $25.20 during peak times of 4 a.m. to 8 p.m., and $18 from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. That’s about a 20 percent increase over current rates. A 7-axle truck will pay $35.30 to run 8 miles, which is $4.41 per mile. Click here for a rate schedule.

The city of Chicago leased the Chicago Skyway to a Spanish-Australian consortium in 2005 for 99 years. The Skyway Concession Co. is owned by Cintra of Spain and Macquarie of Australia.

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