08/08/2011 12:48 pm ET Updated Oct 08, 2011

Illinois Toll Increase: Governor Pat Quinn Signals Support For Rate Hike

After refusing to take a position on the issue less than two weeks ago, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has signaled his support for raising fees at toll booths across the Chicago area.

The increase would help pay for a massive road construction program, pegged at $12 billion, which the Chicago Tribune reports could create as many as 120,000 jobs and as much as $21 billion in total economic growth.

If the increase goes through, I-PASS holders will see their rates nearly double, in the first rate hike they've seen since 1983. 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.

Quinn defended the principle behind the proposed hike last Friday, arguing that the roads needed work. "I think it's important to understand that the Chicago Tribune, in 1983, cost 25 cents. It costs a buck today," he said, according to WBEZ. "So there are higher costs to maintain our roads and tollways, and we have to deal with reality here."

But as Marni Pyke at the suburban Chicago Daily Herald reports, some drivers are none too thrilled:

To get some perspective, I talked to I-PASS holders at the Des Plaines oasis last week.

"I think it's awful," Mike Beauvais of Des Plaines said. Beauvais added he was under the impression tolls would stop in the 1990s once construction was paid for. "It's too much money," he said.

That impression, that tolls would eventually go away, is a relatively common one among Chicago-area drivers. Indeed, as an editorial in the Southtown Star recounts, that was once the promise made to drivers -- that once the roads were paid for, the tolls would go away.

In fact, one proponent of turning the tollways into freeways, as the Tribune reminds readers, was a state treasurer in the 1990s by the name of Pat Quinn.

Instead, though, the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority grew as an agency separate from the Department of Transportation, using funding from the tolls to build new sections of road and renovate existing ones. And if the current plan moves forward -- which it appears it will, pending the Governor's blessing -- it will embark on perhaps the most ambitious project in the agency's history.

A spokesperson for the Governor's office emphasized that Quinn has not taken an official position on the rate hike; that won't happen until after a series of public hearings on the idea. If the tollway board does move forward on it, which it could at its next meeting on August 25, the new fares would go into effect on January 1 of next year.

Flickr photo by jetzenpolis.