10/16/2008Illinois Plans Toll Road Within a Toll Road
New Illinois plan would designate HOT lanes within existing toll roads.
Drivers on Illinois toll roads will soon have the opportunity to pay more to drive on the same stretch of roadway. Illinois Governor Rod R. Blagojevich (D) announced yesterday that he would take existing lanes on the Illinois Tollway system and designate them as "Green Lanes" as part of his revitalized "Tomorrow's Transportation Today" program. These lanes will be High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes operating within existing toll roads.
"I am proud to announce that we will be constructing Green Lanes on the Illinois Tollway," Blagojevich said in a statement. "Not only will these Green Lanes and new interchanges help commuters, but will also pay real dividends to Illinois' communities and businesses through massive new business development."
HOT lanes have been around for more than a decade, but so far New Jersey is the only other state to propose the use of special toll lanes within a toll road. The Illinois Green Lane project promises to reduce congestion by creating three classes of motorist. First, carpools registered with government authorities could use the privileged lanes after paying the regular Illinois toll rates. Second, drivers in politically favored vehicles designated as "green" could pay regular Illinois toll rates plus a reduced "variable fee" to use the Green Lanes. Everybody else would be considered third-class motorists and could use the Green Lanes by paying regular Illinois toll rates plus a full, second toll that would increase during the most congested hours.
By taking over lanes currently dedicated to general purpose traffic, the plan guarantees that cars not paying the extra toll will experience increased congestion. On the Tri-State Tollway, for example, the plan would reduce capacity for the regular toll lanes by twenty-five percent. This, Illinois officials argue, would provide an incentive to drivers to either pay the special fees or purchase the favored vehicles needed to avoid the new congestion.
The infrastructure required to administer the complex program and designate existing lanes as "Green Lanes" will cost an estimated $400 million on a 41-mile stretch of Interstate 294. To help defray the expenses, the governor's plan also calls for a sixty-percent toll hike on commercial vehicles used by businesses throughout the state. After the first increase, the rate will increase yearly at an amount tied to the inflation rate. Although the rate hikes are not scheduled to go into effect until 2015, Blagojevich will spend that money today by issuing bonds that borrow against the expected future returns. Blagojevich also promised to use state police and high-tech automated cameras to enforce the new lane restrictions, generating additional revenue.
"We're going to enforce some of those who try to get around this law with phony blow up dolls," Blagojevich told WGN radio yesterday. "They have a new technology that can actually sensor that. So any scofflaw who has a blow up doll in his or her car, beware."
There will be one public hearing on the new proposal before the Illinois Tollway Board of Directors votes to approve the project in November. Green Lane tolling is scheduled to begin in 2010, starting with the heaviest traveled routes in the state.