IDOT wants express toll lane on I-55

I-55 traffic is choppy in DuPage County near the Cook County border, but IDOT hopes to change the unpredictability with an express toll lane.

Stuck in traffic on I-55 after an IDOT hearing on adding a tolled lane to that highway, I was late for preschool pickup and paid the price — $10 plus guilt.  Had there been the option of paying a toll to zip along in an express lane, I would have done so.

That attitude is what the Illinois Department of Transportation is betting on as momentum grows to widen I-55 from DuPage County into Chicago.

Planners are proposing express toll lanes — one in each direction of I-55 east from Veterans Memorial Tollway (I-355) to the Dan Ryan Expressway.

“What we are looking to achieve is a continuous flow of about 45 mph,” IDOT project engineer Steve Schilke said.

Confused? That’s understandable given we’re talking about combining a freeway and tollway into one. Planners stressed that the toll would apply only to the new lanes.

The unusual tactics are driven by the state’s budget implosion and missing-in-action capital plan, as well as the necessity to fix chronic traffic jams on I-55.

The freeway handles about 170,000 vehicles a day and is a major truck route.

Engineers considered a carpool option but backed away, cautious of low participation after estimates showed 75 percent of drivers on I-55 are solo.

The toll lanes would be on the inside shoulder. Pace express buses currently use that space during rush hour.

Tolls would be collected for IDOT with I-PASS transponders.

But while I-PASS nation is used to flat tolls, the I-55 version could be somewhat funky with “congestion pricing,” meaning costs could vary depending on traffic.

How would that work? Close to rush hour, “prices would increase in order to really control the amount of people in that (express) lane and to make sure the lane keeps moving,” Schilke said at a May 17 hearing.

Tolls would be priced high enough to ensure a fast trip and incidentally move a lot of cars.

Studies on California highways showed express toll lanes carried twice as many cars as free lanes at rush hour, the U.S. Department of Transportation reported.

The toll rate has not been set. IDOT studies have used 10 to 25 cents a mile, but that is theoretical, Schilke said.

Meanwhile, Gov. Bruce Rauner is looking for a private sector partner to finance and operate the project, which needs legislative approval. The feds also need to sign off on the plan.

To learn more or comment, go to i55managedlaneproject.com. Comments received by Wednesday will become part of the official record.

Your voice

Veterans Memorial Tollway regular Carol Noa writes “as one of the thousands of unlucky individuals who have been trapped in a massive traffic jam on several occasions due to the political demonstrators on overpasses, I am thrilled that screening has been installed. I am on the road a minimum of two hours per day and whenever a demonstration has been happening I’ve been stuck in my car for at least an additional 30 minutes.”

And, after Lake County Chairman Aaron Lawlor withdrew his support for the tollway extending Route 53, reader Roger Gamble thinks “this project is stuck in the dark ages with no progress. There are winners for the environment and losers for a working transportation system. Everyone really can gain if each gives up ideals of a perfect world.”

Got a transportation comment? Drop me an email atmpyke@dailyherald.com.

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