No unanimity on Illinois Tollway proposal to increase tolls

The Illinois Tollway wants to fund a $12 billion 15-year capital plan with increases in tolls. Two-thirds of the money is to keep the existing 286 miles of the Tollway in a state of good repair and one-third to expansion projects. If the increase goes through, I-PASS holders will see their rates nearly double, in the first rate hike they’ve seen in 28 years. The basic rate will jump by 35 cents, from $0.40 to $0.75; those paying cash will continue to pay twice the I-PASS rates, meaning they’ll face an average hike of 70 cents. According to the Tollway:

[T]he cost of a car trip on the Tollway system for an average I-PASS customer would be $1.18 – up from today’s average of 63 cents per trip and an increase of $2.75 a week or $11.00 a month. Even after the increase, the Illinois Tollway will rank 29 among all 41 toll road agencies in the U.S. in terms of price – still in the bottom third and an average of just 6 cents per mile.

Initial hearings in August on the proposed increase sported views ranging from “I’m already paying. Why should I pay more?” to “It’s fair. It’s a user fee, not a tax.” Some raised the idea that Tollway users should get a rebate on the gas tax so that they would not be paying twice. Others thought that the Tollway’s authority should extend to additional roads in Illinois. Labor unions and contractors supported the jobs-generating potential. The MPO called the hike “a necessary and brave step” for “carefully targeted expansion.”

The Tollway says that a gas tax increase would be needed without the Tollway:

  • “Without the Illinois Tollway, the state would need to raise the gas tax by about 9 cents a gallon statewide to pay for maintenance and operation of existing Tollway roads – or 11-12 cents a gallon if the tax was only applied to the Tollway’s 12-county service area.”
  • “To fund the infrastructure improvements included in this capital plan, the state would need to raise the gas tax by more than 20 cents a gallon.”

The Tollway board will make a decision later in August.