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April 9, 2019 9:30 AM, EDT

Illinois Lawmaker Proposes Tolls on I-80 Outside Chicago

I-94 approaching I-80 in Chicago I-94 eastbound approaching I-80 in Chicago. (Ken Lund/Flickr)

An Illinois lawmaker has introduced a bill that proposes turning a segment of Interstate 80 outside Chicago into a tolled route.

The bill from Rep. Lawrence Walsh (D-Joliet), filed as HJR50 in March, would authorize the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority to include in its toll system the portion of I-80 — specifically between State Route 47 and I-294, which loops around Chicago and is already tolled. In its entirety, I-80 runs from San Francisco to Teaneck, N.J.

Lawrence Walsh

Walsh

Interstate 80 is the subject of an ongoing IDOT study to identify a solution to the route’s operational and capacity needs. More than $1 billion is needed to repair the road, according to the agency.

Walsh’s legislation states significant improvements are needed, including the repair or reconstruction of several bridges such as the span that runs over the Des Plaines River in Joliet, and the tolls would fund the fixes.

Walsh told Transport Topics the I-80 stretch, designed decades ago, wasn’t built to accommodate the high volume of residents and logistics firms that now occupy the area.

“Now it’s become a major thoroughfare for east-west traffic, especially for commerce, and the road has taken a big beating as far as its safety measures [and] its availability to move traffic and commerce along that stretch,” Walsh said. “I want to get it fixed. I don’t want another Band-Aid.”

The Illinois Trucking Association opposes the proposed tolling of I-80.

Matt Hart, executive director of the Illinois Trucking Association, compared turning the route into a tollway to a bank claiming a person’s car after it’s paid off.

“That should be alarming for anybody, let alone the trucking industry, that someone should propose taking a public thoroughfare after they’ve paid for it and just giving it to the tollway authority,” Hart said. “The Illinois Trucking Association is prepared to fight this proposal because it’s just a bad idea on principle.”

Hart acknowledged the need for infrastructure improvements along I-80, but expressed distrust with the Legislature because of past diversions of state highway money to the general fund. In 2016, the Safe Roads Amendment was passed to ensure transportation dollars are spent solely on transportation.

“The Illinois Trucking Association’s approach to that is making sure that the money that the state is collecting for infrastructure is going back into the road and it is going to where the traffic is,” Hart said.

The trucking association has two offices, one in Joliet, just 2 miles south of I-80. Joliet and neighboring Elwood are home to CenterPoint Intermodal Center, the largest inland port in North America, located about 8 miles south of I-80. Numerous logistics companies, warehouses and distribution centers have cropped up in the surrounding area, an important freight hub for rail and trucks.

Walsh said that, even with a capital bill or a fuel tax hike, it would be difficult to secure funds for this section of road because there are so many other transportation needs across the state. He suggested that a tolling plan could help the road repairs and Des Plaines River bridge replacement get completed in six or seven years rather than 10-15 years.

The legislation remains under deliberation in the state House of Representatives.

“I know the trucking associations don’t like the tolls, but at the end of the day, the tolls stay within the system and if it were to stay within the system, that means that road would be upkept for more expedient traffic,” Walsh said. “Time is money to them. I’m looking to alleviate that.”