Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Illinois Toll Highway Authority: highway to hell

In the unlikely event that Gov. Jim Doyle ever pulls his head out of his ass long enough to recognize the merits of a Wisconsin tollway, system planners will be looking around for a model.

Hopefully, they don’t look down.

It’s certainly been a busy new year for the Illinois Toll Highway Authority. The system opened the month with a wide-scale toll hike, imposed on all users except ones with cars equipped with I-PASS — an electronic sensory device that withdraws money automatically from a registered bank account when the user passes through a plaza lane.


Administrators billed the plan as a way to promote I-PASS and raise funds for a 10-year, $5.3 billion plan to rebuild parts of the Illinois network.

Well, please excuse this ‘Sconnie for being cynical, but something smells foul in the Land of Lincoln.

First of all, if the I-PASS improves efficiency as much as we’re led to believe, then why does Chicago congestion remain as bad as ever? For anyone who loves the luxury these little white boxes bring, it’s a simple step in logic to assume traffic should move faster with more people hopping on board. Simple, but nevertheless erroneous.

Here’s the catch: When the tollway authority says automated systems like I-PASS improve efficiency, the statement rings true — it’s just a matter of definition. While drivers define efficiency as the ease and swiftness of crossing between two points, the authority defines it as the ease and swiftness of exploiting funds from travelers.

Make no mistake, I-PASS does little to curb the notorious Windy City traffic backups. In fact, with more and more commuters migrating to electronic plaza lanes, the rush hour jams have become worse, if anything. Naturally, the authority plans to cut back on the manual and automatic change lanes in favor of more passages for I-PASS users.

Herein lies another problem. Since the inception of I-PASS, toll workers say their occupation has become increasingly dangerous on account of reckless drivers ignoring speed limits in the electronic lanes. With work-related deaths on the rise, the boothminders now have a new gripe as Gov. Blagojevich and the tollway authority plot to phase out jobs in favor of the automated system.

Since the recent initiative to goad drivers toward picking up I-PASS units by hitting their wallet, the toll workers unions are forming picket lines. Soon, they might be joining unemployment lines.

Yet, the increasing danger as a result of automation isn’t restricted to toll workers. Plaza impasses are proving more hazardous for drivers as well. With the melee of lane changes drivers must make when approaching and departing plazas — particularly in bad weather — horrific accidents seem the order of the day.

Most recently, a truck driver skidded and plowed into a family car in Elgin, Ill., killing two-year-old Amanda Santos. The wreck also left three other members of the Santos family in hospital beds — though the status of their injuries has not been released.

With the cost of “efficiency” so high, one must wonder what the State of Illinois plans to do with the increased funding. More lanes to elevate congestion? Increased patrols to protect safe drivers from reckless ones? Not exactly.

The main goal highlighted by lawmakers is an ambitious expansion of Interstate 355 — a southbound route that Blagojevich claims will spark development and create a bevy of new jobs. While his proclamations seem misguidedly optimistic, there’s a chance this expansion could do a lot of good. Regardless, the thinking behind the project constitutes a stark divergence from the original purpose of a tollway.

Once upon a time, people viewed tollbooths as a method of covering the immense cost of freeway maintenance. Now, they see a cash cow birthed to subsidize catalyst projects.

Once upon a time, the Illinois Toll Highway Authority saw the users of their system as customers paying a fair price for use of a state resource. Now, they just see 1.2 million dollar signs a day rolling along at 80 miles per hour.

If one, two or even five succumb to a fatal car wreck … no big deal, still 1,199,995 left to collect on. And why bother adequately patrolling the roads when the authority’s heralded Traffic and Incident Management System (SIMS) can monitor a stretch of freeway for pennies a day?

Apparently lawmakers in the state bear a more favorable opinion of Illinois drivers than the rest of us in the Midwest.

With such a poor role model, it’s no wonder many Wisconsinites scatter when someone rightly proposes a tollway system to help bankroll the rising costs of freeway maintenance.

Last week, the Illinois Toll Highway Authority proudly unveiled the final product of a plan to share live feed from the TIMS system with a local NBC affiliate. Bad move flatlanders — the Fox bigwigs would have paid a lot more.

Just imagine “Gruesome Scenes from the Illinois Tollway” as the reality television breakaway hit of 2005, and rue what might have been.

Patrick Klemz ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in journalism.

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