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Tollway Board Approves Steep Toll Increase

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The Illinois Tollway. (Credit: CBS)

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UPDATED 08/25/11 12:00 p.m.

DOWNERS GROVE, Ill. (CBS) — The cost of tolls will nearly double under a plan approved by the Illinois Toll Highway Authority Board Thursday.

The board of directors approved a plan to increase tolls, by 35 cents for I-Pass users, and 70 cents for cash payers.

Basic I-Pass toll rates will increase from 40 cents to 75 cents, with those who use cash to pay $1.50. Some toll plazas will cost as much as $1.90 for I-Pass.

The hike takes effect in January.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports


For I-Pass users, tolls have not increased in nearly 30 years, Illinois Toll Highway Authority executive director Kristi LaFleur said.

“Seventy-five percent of our drivers haven’t seen an increase in 1983,” LaFleur said on the CBS 2 Morning News Thursday. “We have some of the lowest rates in the country.”

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.

The Tollway says the “Move Illinois” projects would create up to 120,000 jobs.

But motorists Thursday were none too thrilled about paying higher tolls.

Ellie Stearlman headed to work Thursday morning from her home in Libertyville, and topped off her tank at the local gas station. But she knows it takes more than just the cost of fuel to get there.

“I go to right about Lake Cook Road in Riverwoods, and I pay the toll getting off at Lake Cook, and getting back on there and back, so it’s $2 for me every day,” Stearman said.

So the idea of the tolls doubling is not welcome news.

“I think it’s pretty ridiculous. It’s already $2, which I think is kind of a lot to begin with, and I don’t know what they’re using this money for, but it’s a lot,” Stearlman said.

But those who have heard the purpose for the money seem to be getting behind the plan. The Sun-Times Media Wire reported Wednesday that Gov. Pat Quinn called the support for the plan “overwhelming.”

LaFleur echoed that sentiment on the CBS 2 Morning News Thursday.

“Well I think what we heard from the public was that the hearings and the hearing process that there was overwhelming support for the proposal and the capital projects,” LaFleur said.

She said the toll hike is necessary to quicken commute times and solve the congestion problem.

“Eighty-six percent of the feedback was positive, and what people are telling us is that congestion is the real problem here, and they want to solve it,” LaFleur said. “They’re tired of sitting in traffic. They’re tired of sitting on the Jane Addams, and they really want to solve the congestion problem that’s plaguing our city.”

The Tollway has been holding public hearings in the suburbs all through the past week, and the plan has also seen a substantial number of backers at the hearings.

Contractors, engineering firms, and labor union representatives lined up to show support.

“I got my driver’s license in 1983, when the last toll increase happened. Gas cost $1.35 a gallon. I can’t believe that we haven’t had a toll increase since then,” one supporter said.

But Jeff Criel of Libertyville doubted that the toll hike was necessary even for the projects the Tollway plans to undertake.

“That’s tough to sell because 94 was totally redone. I know 90 has to get redone, but I don’t know if doubling the tolls is necessary to do that,” Criel said. “It would basically double my toll every day. I hit two tolls going down 94 and out to 90.”

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