CHICAGO
07/28/2011 06:04 pm ET | Updated Sep 27, 2011

Illinois May See Toll Hike To Fund $12 Billion In New Construction

While Illinois' tolls already leave drivers digging deep into their pockets, the state's Toll Highway Authority Thursday announced a proposed toll increase -- somewhere between 35 and 90 cents -- for I-Pass users in order to fund a variety of construction projects estimated to cost $12 billion.

The capital plan, according to the agency, involves rebuilding the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90) as "a 21st century, state-of-the-art corridor linking Rockford to O’Hare Airport" and a new interchange connecting I-294 to I-57, in addition to the much-publicized Elgin-O'Hare bypass. A number of other roads, bridges and maintenance facilities would also be repaired under the plan.

The plan will create "more than 120,000 permanent jobs" and add $21 billion to the economy, according to the agency, but that benefit does come with the short-term impact of increasing toll rates (by nearly double, Crain's Chicago pointed out) for I-Pass users beginning January 1, 2012. It appears that drivers paying tolls with cash will continue to pay twice the current I-Pass toll rate.

The agency reports that I-Pass users have not been hit with a toll increase for nearly three decades -- and that needs to change, they say.

"A 21st century transportation system can't be paid for in 1983 dollars," Illinois Tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur said in a statement announcing the capital plan. "No one else is going to step up -- not Washington, D.C., nor anyone else -- to help us pay for these infrastructure improvements that are needed to keep our competitive advantage."

The agency plans to hold a series of 12 public hearings throughout areas of the state served by the tollway in order to gauge customer feedback in the weeks ahead, with the Cook County hearing slated for August 18 at the Chicago Ridge City Hall.

Of the Elgin-O'Hare expressway extension and western bypass, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn earlier this month described that specific construction as "an outline for all of us to create jobs today and tomorrow," according to the Daily-Herald. That construction alone is expected to generate some 65,000 permanent jobs.

The governor has yet to comment publicly on the newly proposed statewide capital plan and accompanying toll increases, which have frequently been unpopular among state lawmakers and their constituents alike.