• Jul 21, 2010
Chicago ranks number three on the list of cities with the worst traffic. Following a study by the Municipal Planning Council and the Illinois Tollway, one suggested way to remedy the issue is the introduction of congestion pricing on Chicago-area toll roads. This isn't the flat-fee congestion charge from London, but rather the supply-and-demand based flexible pricing already adopted on toll roads in California and Minneapolis: at peak times, the toll goes up, during off-hours the toll drops.

Portions of three highways have been mentioned as good candidates: the Stevenson Expressway, Jane Adams Tollway, and the Kennedy Expressway. The city is a long way from enacting the idea but it has been debating it for years, and in addition to the quality-of-life and pollution-level benefits, the city has its eye on the more than $23 million in aid that increased tolls could provide to Chicago's financial situation.

Critics of the idea contend that such "Lexus lanes" will only be a boon for the rich. The authorities respond that surveys have showed widespread approval in all of the states where variable pricing has been put in place. We don't know how much that would rely on the study's claim that tollway drivers would "be assured of free-flowing traffic, even in rush hour," which is a bold claim to make. Yet with 22 states said to be studying the same idea, it appears as though the sheer momentum could eventually overcome opposition.

[Source: Chicago Tribune | Image: Getty]


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  • 40 Comments
      • 4 Years Ago
      I'm not sure if it's ever been calculated now that it's actually up, but before the I-394 HOT lanes in Minneapolis were activated, there were discussions that it would cost more to run the toll infrastructure than the amount collected in tolls. Of course, Illinois already has a significant tolling infrastructure, so maybe it won't matter there.
      • 4 Years Ago
      We drive Chicago freeways on occasion. They're pretty bad at times. When going southbound from Lake county toward the Skyway during the week, we leave at 6:30 AM. No problem, racing the Beemer brokers at 80+MPH, rarely touching the brakes until the first toll.
      Coming into town, we leave ME Ohio by 8:30, arrive in the Loop area by 2, a little struggle and pretty clear sailing out. Rush hours, which are most any time other than above, fugeddaboudit.
      Anybody who fails to use gasbuddy.com pays big time. And, use your IZoom/EzPass. Save time, money. Best bet: Massachusetts masspike.com. No fee, no charge for the transducers. Discounts in OH, IN.
        • 4 Years Ago
        We've had TollTags here in the DFW area for over 15 years, and all the toll roads will be cashless (no tollbooths) by the end of the summer. TollTags are free, and TollTag users pay lower tolls than those without one (the alternative is ZipCash, which uses high-speed cameras to read the license plate and bill registered owners).
      • 4 Years Ago
      Here is a rundown if you are not from Chicagoland. Primarily a hub/spoke model, with two circumferential tollways I-355 & I-294.

      I-55 [Stevenson] was just upgraded to 3 lanes all the way to I-80. (Was only 2 lanes from Illinois-53 southbound, finally finished last year, far less backups) I-55 should be 4 lanes from the City to I-355 ['north-south' tollway]

      I-80 is still two lanes East of Joliet, until the New Lenox/Mokena area. I-80 should be 3 lanes from I-39, to at least South Bend, Indiana. Also part of I-80 become a tollway, with little warning or alternate route, but for only a 5.5 mile stretch, then back to freeway. and if you pay cash, you pay double. (statewide)

      I-294 ['Tri-State' tollway] intersects with I-57, but there is no interchange, one of a handful in the country, but that is being remedied [better many years late than never]

      I-355 just had an extension finished [I-55 south to I-80]. Perfect virgin pavement, long, fast, straight, so of course, a 55 mph 'speed limit' [that is being raised to 65 Jan 2011, again late is better than never] Lots of cops, just in time for the commute.

      I-88 ['East-West', 'Ronald Reagan' tollway], long, flat, straight. Tollway for about 75% the width of the state

      I-290 [Eisenhower] Heaven help this stretch of tarmac. Crazy entrances/exits, the light rail runs between traffic

      I-90/94 [Kennedy] This runs from the City to O'Hare Airport. When is it not backed up? Reversible express lanes rarely help.

      I-94 [Edens] The scenery is nice, but why is there always traffic jams on this.

      I-90 ['Northwest' 'Jane Adams' tollway] runs to Rockford, but there is a tollway on I-39 North, to Wisconsin.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Wouldn't it be easier to just tax the parking lots in the most congested areas of the city, rather than having to deal with variable prices at toll booths? I'm pretty sure the congestion isn't caused by people who are just going in, sitting around in traffic, and going home to the suburbs. Then you can do some fun social engineering like discount the tax rate on compact and hybrid-only spaces - though I'd be more in favor of discounted taxes for parking garages that cars over 72 inches tall can't fit in.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I'm just glad Oregon has no tolls roads at this moment. What a waste - first you get taxed to build the road, then you get taxed to use it. Sorry, but those of you in states with toll roads have been had.
        • 4 Years Ago
        From Wisconsin here with no toll roads either. I don't really understand the idea either. Where does toll money go?
        • 4 Years Ago
        duke: people are afraid of what they don't understand, whether it be foreigners, gay marriage, universal healthcare, or toll roads, and they'll use scare tactics (the world will end!) to maintain the status quo. You can't really blame them, but it's dangerous in the long run.
        • 4 Years Ago
        "Where does toll money go?" Unions, law firms, people who "contribute" to politicians.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Here in North Texas (toll roads run by North Texas Tollway Authority), 43.2% of the tolls go to debt service, 29% to operations and maintenance, 16.2% to reserve maintenance (unexpected repairs, like when a tanker truck fire damaged a sound wall on the PGBT a couple of years ago), and 9.8% to capital improvements.

        http://www.ntta.org/NR/rdonlyres/228B3CDA-15AE-4609-ADE3-A265E49BA605/0/WhereTollsGo.pdf#page=4

        I don't like toll roads either, but there's not enough money to build new freeways here, and building them as toll roads gets them built much faster.
      • 4 Years Ago
      not ONE of the three roads mentioned are toll roads; they are expressways that are not patrolled by the city but by the state troopers; it isn't until you get out of Chicago that the Kennedy turns into a toll road!

      the real problem comes from poor planning when they built these roads; they underestimated that over time the increase in traffic would come because they were making it easier to increase the places people would live.

      add to that the fact that most people who use these roads DO NOT live in Chicago but the suburbs and ex-urbs and Chicago thinks it's being denied money, when they don't even pay for the upkeep at all - they are all interstates!

      consequently, wouldn't this plan be taxing a tax? i thought that was illegal?

      Chicago has some pretty nefrarious taxes as it is. for example, if you live in Chicago and you buy a car in the suburbs, or even nearby Indiana, you have to pay Chicago sales tax on it! and the courts have upheld it!!! in some cases if you move into the city and had bought a car in the suburbs you have to pay sales tax on it!

      it's ALL poor planning...
      • 4 Years Ago
      I love how there's alway polls that show approval for things but not me or anyone I ever come across ever get asked. I guess u get the results u want when u ask the right people
      • 4 Years Ago
      As long as the people of Chicago pay for it and not me I'm fine with it.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I wonder what Chicago Political THUG will reap the benefits of this shakedown?
      • 4 Years Ago
      Critics who cry "Lexus" lanes are divorced from reality. Sure, wealthy folks might use the lanes, but so will moms/dads rushing to get to daycare after work (which may charge $/min if they're late) or blue collar workers such as plumbers and electricians who might be able to squeeze in another job for the day if they don't have to wait in traffic. This has been proven in Southern California, where the same critics railed on "Lexus" lanes only to be proven false.

      Congestion pricing is the key to solving our congestion problems nationwide. It relies on market forces to drive consumer behavior, and as a result consumers make decisions that are best for their particular situation. Those critics would rather everyone be stuck in traffic? Exactly what's the point? It's been proven time and again that building more lanes does not help with congestion, it only drives up the number of people on the roads.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Chicago has 6 lanes of traffic going through the center city... Are they going to close one of those lanes? or teleport people to their locations... It will cause more congestions then ever - Even the the luxury lane....
        • 4 Years Ago
        You have no idea how it works. Congestion charges are designed to maintain free-flow travel. In CA they've used the HOV lane and converted to a HOT lane (I-15 in San Diego) where HOVs are free and toll payers can use it, priced so that it's always free-flowing. On SR 91 ("91 Express Lanes) they did have room to build extra lanes with guaranteed travel times.

        The concept works. The more congestion there is, the higher the toll, causing people to adjust their schedule based on their time-value of money. They may decide to leave at a different time or pay the higher price. Many people can afford to change their schedule, thereby spreading out traffic to the shoulder peaks.
        • 4 Years Ago
        FYI, there's no guarantee on travel time for those fast track lanes. Heck, I just looked right now ... regular lanes on the 91 westbound @ gypsum canyon is 52 mph; fast track is at 35 mph. So much for paying $11 to get to where you need to go faster ...

        The only way that they can guarantee fast travel times is to seriously supply-and-demand it ... if $10/each way still creates too much traffic, then lets charge $15. If it's still too much traffic, let's charge $20 ... and when it gets to that amount, then you have folks that say F-it to going to work because it costs them money ... so businesses lose employees, shut down because it's too expensive for folks to get to work, and now the city is in an even bigger predicament because now no one needs to use it at all because all the jobs left the city.

        But hey, that toll tax ... it's new money that helps offset that huge business and sales tax shortfall we didn't anticipate ....

        Oops.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I'm not all about getting everything for free, but why the sneaky "only for the rich" ways of making our lives easier? I deal with Chicago suburbs traffic every day, its not fun and horribly organized. Stoplights that let 3 cars through, no turn lanes, getting pulled over to be interrogated by state police, and once they cannot find anything you did wrong, they make up that you didn't use your turn signal for the last two lane changes you made (yes this was last week).

      I'm willing to pay my share to make my daily commute easier, only if it actually goes toward the roadways.
      • 4 Years Ago
      The problem is simple - more freeway lane miles are needed ALONG with any proposed solution. If population is growing, the need is growing. Behavioral changes will help, but not solve the problem. In Minneapolis, they take an existing lane and make it HOV - limiting its use. Or they construct a new HOV lane and do not address the prevailing need for a new lane for normal traffic. Studies showed that when the added a full lane to the 694 north loop a few years back, traffic was reduced precipitously. While volume of traffic moved by the road on opening day was up somewhere around 50%, congestion was down by nearly 90%. HOV lanes can help, but they are not the solution themselves. More traffic lane miles are needed.
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