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Toll Lanes a Great Option for the Stevenson (I-55)

Image Credit: Ken Lund (flickr)

The Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) congratulates Governor Rauner and the Ill. Dept. of Transportation for considering using a public-private partnership to build managed lanes on I-55. MPC worked for five years in Springfield to pass 2011 legislation that enables such a project.

Adding capacity on I-55 has been a regional priority for years. It’s a top priority in Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s GO TO 2040 regional plan. Experience shows that simply adding another regular lane will not ease congestion in the long term: once that capacity is there, it will just fill up. Putting a variable-priced toll on that lane lets you manage demand and keep it free-flowing. If you’re really in a time crunch, you have the choice to take that lane.

In 2010, MPC studied adding a tolled lane to I-55 and found it would shave 22 minutes off a morning rush-hour commute from I-355 to I-90/94. Based on projected traffic levels in 2020, that drive would drop from 47 to 25 minutes. The free lanes also benefit from the added capacity of the tolled lane, seeing their travel time drop 16 minutes to 31 minutes.

This new lane will also make taking the bus a more attractive choice. The current bus-on-shoulder service has been incredibly successful, but it isn’t able to use the shoulder for the whole corridor and it’s limited to 35 mph. This lane would give it a continuous path and let it go as fast as 55 mph, improving reliability and opening the door to more frequent service.

Finally, the toll can be put toward the costs of constructing and maintaining the lane. With revenue from the gas tax declining and Illinois’ investment in transportation following suit, we need to look more at user fees like tolled lanes to pay for our infrastructure.