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Updated 08/18/11 – 9:30 p.m.
DOWNERS GROVE, Ill. (CBS) — A pair of public hearings were held Thursday evening to discuss the Illinois Toll Highway Authority’s proposal to raise tolls to pay for road improvements.
The tollway wants to spend $12 billion over the next 15 years to pay for capital improvement, funded by increased tolls on the tollways in the Chicago area.
The proposal calls for the basic 40-cent toll now paid by I-Pass users at most toll stations to rise to 75 cents. Cash users would go from 80 cents to $1.50.
As Newsradio’s Bob Roberts reports, the plan met little opposition at one of the hearings, in Geneva. In fact, the testimony was dominated by the contractors and engineering firms who support it.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Roberts reports
“I can’t believe anybody would oppose a 35-cent increase in tolls when I drive through Indiana, I drive through Ohio, I drive through Pennsylvania and the dollar amount on tolls is ridiculous compared to what we pay. I mean, we’re getting it dirt cheap,” Jeffrey Buchholz said.
Small business owner Richard Stark of Huntley was opposed.
“We put off capital improvements, we kept things running at a minimum and a tight ship, and I don’t understand why the tollroad can’t do the same thing,” he said.
Another opponent called the hearing a “contractor’s love fest.”
Tolls for people with the I-Pass remain at the same level as in 1983 – nearly three decades ago. But that does not mean the proposed increase is going down any easier.
“I think I pay enough already and we don’t need to pay any more,” motorist Art Lewey said.
“That’s ridiculous. Why should we double it when we’re paying our tax dollars other places already?” said Jeanelle Jackson.
Revenue from the toll hike would pay for a number of new projects: reconstruction of the Jane Addams Tollway, reconstruction I-90 from O’Hare International Airport to Rockford for the first time in 50 years, construction of a south suburban interchange between I-294 and I-57 and construction of an additional leg of the Elgin-O’Hare Expressway that still connects neither Elgin nor O’Hare.
“I think it’s probably positive because people need jobs,” Chey Priebel said.
But truckers only see a big increase in costs.
“We’re paying a lot of tolls, about $50 a day going back and forth from Milwaukee to Chicago and the way our economy is right now, it’s very bad,” said trucker Kujtim Mahmudi.
Other drivers said it’s another financial burden at a time when people are struggling.
“Putting more pressure on the people at a time when it’s already hard and making them double up on tolls right now, I think it’s a little extensive,” said motorist Demario Ranson.
Not everyone on the Tollway Board is in favor of the steep increase either. Tollway Board member Bill Morris has gone on record saying the authority should scale back its proposed hike for I-Pass users from 35 cents to 15 cents.
He said that would be sufficient for the projects the Tollway is seeking to fund.
The tollway was holding its first hearing at 4 p.m. Thursday at the Kane County Government Center, at 719 S. Batavia Ave. in Geneva, followed by a hearing at 7 p.m. Thursday at the DuPage County Government Center, at 421 N. County Farm Rd. in Wheaton.