An Overview of the Illinois Tollway

By: Ryley Bruun

A Brief History

In 1953, the Illinois State Toll Highway Commission was formed. The original intent of the tollway was for interstate travel across the county, rather than domestic commuters. With the Toll Highway Act, the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority (ISTHA) was given power to generate revenue via tolls to pay for road construction. According to ISTHA, it is a “user-fee system and receives no state or federal funds for maintenance and operations.” ISTHA uses the Toll Highway Act to raise monies through the issuance of bonds to fund capital investment projects. These bonds are paid through commuters paying tolls when using the tollways. The Illinois State Toll Highway Commission was originally intended to be temporary. However, the amount of construction jobs over time, along with the growing usage of the tollway system, established a cycle of revenue and investment that allowed for repairs and improvements for drivers on tollways paid for drivers on tollways. This meant that the system would fund itself and not have to rely on state revenue to fund the system. 

Contemporary Issues 

According to the Illinois Tollway 2019 Annual Report, there were roughly 1.6 million drivers each day creating an average of 2.8 million transactions per day; resulting in an income of 1.46 billion in tolls and evasion fees for 2019. The payment of tolls comes overwhelmingly from the I-Pass transponder (91 percent of tolls are paid this way) which has 4.6 million active users. There are currently 294 centerlane miles of tollway, including a total of 5 toll roads that connect through 12 counties. 

The Move Illinois: The Illinois Tollway Driving the Future Capital Program started in 2012 and is expected to last until 2026, with a total investment of $14 billion dollars after a $2 billion dollar expansion added by the Board of Directors in 2017. This contains three major projects that include the I-90 corridor linking Rockford to O’Hare, an all-electronic interchange between I-294 to I-57, and the all-econtronic Elgin O’Hare Western Access Project (EOWA). The EOWA includes building 17 new miles of roadway and 15 interchanges, with a total investment guaranteed by the Move Illinois program of 3.1 billion dollars. DuPage County, Cook County, and other local authorities have currently raised 141 million out of the needed 300 million dollars to cover the rest of the project and is expected to cost $3.4 billion when completed. Monthly Capital Program Reports can be found here

COVID-19 Impact

Expected revenues are down roughly 5 percent for 2020, with the beginning of the year seeing a drop in passenger traffic by 55 percent in April and a loss of $52 million dollars. It was expected that revenues were to increase by roughly 3 percent to a total of $1.5 billion dollars in the year 2020, but that remains to be seen given the shift in commuter habits as a result of COVID-19. 

Prior to COVID-19, fees for late or unpaid tolls were between $20 and $50 dollars. This has since been reduced to $3 and $15 dollars depending on the time the payment is made towards the unpaid toll and vehicle tier. 

For more information relating to toll fee relief due to COVID-19 visit: IllinoisTollway.com

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