The moribund economic recovery has left us loath to endorse any plan that calls for increased taxes and fees.
The Illinois Tollway’s plan to increase tolls by 87.5 percent to fund a $12 billion capital improvement plan merits an exception.
For one, the tollway’s increase, which would raise tolls on I-Pass users from 40 cents to 75 cents at most toll plazas, isn’t simply aimed at maintaining the status quo.
The goal is to improve the tollway system over a 15-year period, with the most noteworthy benefit for local commuters being the plan to widen Interstate 90 from the Tri-State (I-294) to Rockford.
Anyone who’s ever tried to drive to a 7 p.m. Bulls game on a Tuesday has spent plenty of time getting acquainted with that stretch of road, where traffic can back up before the Des Plaines Oasis.
For another, the plan to increase tolls is the only likely source of funds to expand and improve the state’s tollway system. Illinois’ state government is drowning in debt and is not going to come up with the money, and neither is the federal government, no matter how high they raise the debt ceiling.
The tollway’s plan isn’t a tax increase. It’s a user fee. Those who don’t use the toll roads won’t have to pay for it. The heaviest users of the tollway will pay the most and benefit most.
For example, a person who enters I-90 at Randall Road and drives all the way to Chicago five days a week, say 50 weeks a year, would pay an extra $350 in tolls on top of the $400 a year they pay now.
As improvements are made to the system, however, that long commute should become shorter and less stressful.
Expanding toll roads could save travelers time, cut down on the amount of gasoline wasted as vehicles idle in traffic, and hopefully leave the area’s transportation system better equipped to handle the ever-growing volume of vehicles sharing the road.