CFL News
August 18, 2011

Unions, town officials voice support for tollway hike, construction

The Illinois State Toll Highway Authority plan that would nearly double tolls to pay for $12.1 billion in road improvements and new projects over a 15-year period received overwhelming support Thursday night

Source: Southtown Star

By STEVE METSCH

The Illinois State Toll Highway Authority plan that would nearly double tolls to pay for $12.1 billion in road improvements and new projects over a 15-year period received overwhelming support Thursday night at a public hearing at Chicago Ridge village hall.

Representatives of trade unions, south suburban mayors, civil engineers and drivers who use the tollways formed the majority of attendees, and about 90 percent of those who spoke were in favor of the increase.

Chicago Ridge Mayor Gene Siegel and Blue Island Mayor Donald Peloquin both said the increase, which would fund a long-awaited interchange between interstates 294 and 57 near Posen, would provide the economic stimulus to create new jobs.

“We have to create jobs, so I think this project is very much needed,” Siegel said.

Peloquin said the interchange would help congestion on I-294 and make it easier for trucks to move products through the Chicago area.

One of the few speakers who opposed the increase was Bill Sandstrom, of Glenwood.

“While I’m in favor of these projects, this (increase) hurts. Let’s take time to think about it,” he said.

Chris Maka, of Palos Heights, thinks the improvements are needed and he would have no problem paying more money.

“My wife and I both recently had job changes. We each drive 47 miles to work,” said Maka, who praised the tollway for its quality roads, cleanliness and commitment to making commuting easier for drivers.

Paul Kovacs, the toll authority’s chief engineer, said, “If fees are not increased, the tollways will not be able to build the interchange for 294/57 or make any other improvements.” He said that only those who use the system pay for it, and that the plan should move forward now because the price goes up 5 percent each year the tollway waits.

Elias Gordan, an attorney from Tinley Park, praised the plan, saying, “I commend the tollway for having the guts to do something in this depression. At least the tollway is creating 13,000 jobs. When those people are working, they will put money into the economy.”

Tom Villanova, of Orland Park, the president of the Chicago & Cook County Building & Construction Trades Council, said the union supports the rate increase because 25 to 30 percent of its members are unemployed.

“We’re talking about 13,000 jobs a year over 10 years,” Villanova said. “Our members want to feed their children, support their families and put their kids through school.”

Under the plan, even I-PASS users would pay higher tolls. I-PASS users in passenger cars who pay 40 cents to $1 would pay 75 cents to $1.90 for tolls, while drivers who stop at tollbooths and pay 80 cents to $2 in cash would pay $1.50 to $3.80.

The tollway board could vote on the plan as soon as next week, officials said.

Another hearing was held in New Lenox, one of 14 hearings throughout Northern Illinois.

Locally, the construction plan also would create new exits from I-294 to 147th Street.

The 294/57 interchange would be built in phases, with ramps that take traffic to and from the northern leg of I-294 and the southern leg of I-57 being built first because they would relieve 80 percent of the congestion, officials said.

Those ramps would be built by 2014, tollway officials said, while the rest of the interchange construction would be scheduled for 2023 to 2024 so the need for funding could be spread out over time.

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