Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner visited an Illinois Department of Transportation Depot (IDOT) in McCook, Illinois, on Monday to urge the General Assembly to move forward with an I-55 road initiative that would add one toll lane each way in the median of the congested highway.
The goal is to give drivers on the 25-mile stretch of I-55 between Interstate 355 (Bolingbrook) and Interstate 90/94 (Hinsdale) an option to get to their destination faster using the toll lanes. Currently, this east-west span of I-55 sees about 170,000 vehicles a day, many of which are trucks going into Chicago or diverting on I-90/94 toward O'Hare. I-55 runs from at Interstate 10 in LaPlace, Louisiana and ends at Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. As truck traffic and the population grows, estimates are more than 250,000 vehicles will be using the east-west stretch of the highway by 2040.
Rauner, along with IDOT Secretary of Transportation Randall Blankenhorn, House Republican Leader Rep. Jim, said the current congestion afflicting I-55 is costly for businesses and commuters. Adding toll lanes will create efficiency and new jobs, Rauner said.
“We need to grow more jobs by increasing the capacity of our transportation system, and while we are doing that, we create high-paying, good-quality construction jobs to expand the system,” he said. “This is a win on every level. The project that we are proposing is one that will not cost taxpayers any money at all. Taxpayers will not be at risk even for one nickel. This can all be privately financed. This can all be done independent.”
The House Tollway Oversight Committee, chaired by Rep. Bob Rita, have held five hearings on the matter already but House Speaker Mike Madigan said in a statement he still doesn't have enough information to call for a vote. Madigan's statement read: “Our concern with private investors being involved in a toll lane is that, once again, it seems as though Governor Rauner is more interested in helping his wealthy friends. Despite multiple requests for information over several months, IDOT hasn’t prepared a plan that would lay out the costs, results and anticipated tolls. IDOT hasn’t provided any evidence demonstrating that this project will save taxpayer dollars or result in better maintained roads. We continue to await this information.”
The delay is causing problems with both the private investors and the interested contractors, Blankenhorn said, because potential bidders are worried that the public-private partnership could turn into a repeat of the proposed Illiana Expressway, which has been mired in controversy for a decade.
"We met with 17 builder groups in October, and this matter came up repeatedly in those conversations," Blankenhorn said. The companies are worried about spending money amid "political risk."
Drivers questioned about the proposed toll lanes as a congestion fix were doubtful, saying they didn't think the plan would save them enough time to make it worth the toll, according to ABC news.
Blankenhorn said the General Assembly has until April 1 to pass the measure or investors will walk away from the $400 million project..