Stevenson toll lanes a tough sell
Public leery of IDOT proposal to add two pay lanes
By Steve Metsch
The proposal would add two toll lanes to the inbound and outbound Stevenson, from Interstate 294 to the Dan Ryan Expressway, as a way to ease heavy congestion. According to IDOT, the Stevenson has 12 hours of congestion and four crashes daily.
The toll amount is yet to be determined. One toll lane in each direction on the Stevenson, or Interstate 55, has been approved by the Federal Highway Administration from I-294 to Interstate 355. The traffic volume, IDOT says, is 180,000 vehicles per day on the 25 miles between the Dan Ryan and I-355.
The thinking is that those willing to pay a toll to drive on the Stevenson will use the two lanes, both nearest the median, and free up some space on the three free lanes that would be heading in either direction.
Bob Granstaff, of Chicago’s Garfield Ridge neighborhood, shook his head and grimaced when watching an IDOT video touting the plan. Later, when he reviewed more information on display, he was not pleased.
“They want more money out of us. They want to add more lanes? That’s fine. But they’ll be charging us tolls and they don’t even know how much the tolls will be. I was told it may depend on the time of day. Will they charge more in rush hour?” Granstaff, 55, said.
He formerly drove the Stevenson daily to and from a job in Romeoville.
“I know the Stevenson, but to do this is a money grab,” Granstaff said.
IDOT would use electronic readers of transponders to make sure people are charged for the toll lanes. Those without the transponders would be billed later, just like today when you skip a toll booth.
“This is a cluster screw-up. If they open it up, that would be perfect. Why have a toll? And how are they going to pay for this? The state is broke. Broke. And we’re going to do this? This is stupid,” Granstaff said.
He rolled his eyes when asked about the videotaped message that says toll lane users are guaranteed to go 45 mph. “What’s going to happen when it snows?” he asked.
He later got into a friendly, and sometimes heated, debate with IDOT project manager Steve Schilke about the merits of adding toll lanes to the Stevenson Expressway.
Adding two more free lanes in each direction would not best address the problem, Schilke said.
“We want to have options. We want to move the most people through the corridor,” he said.
Granstaff disagreed, saying “the Stevenson isn’t that bad. It has gaps. It has congestion. This isn’t necessary. This is another way for the state to take money from our hands.”
Schilke countered that drivers would not be forced to drive the toll lanes, that it would be their choice.
“I’ve been here since First Avenue was a dirt road. This is not necessary,” Granstaff said.
A bemused Jim Zilinsky, of Crest Hill, watched their exchange.
“When the toll booths came out in the ‘50s, I read they’d be gone in 20 years. Now they’re popping up everywhere because it’s a money maker. What I see as trouble is someone will pop in there from the free lanes and right before the toll, is going to come out. I can see accidents happening,” Zilinski said.
The stretch in question is about 14 miles long, officials said. The estimated construction cost is about $700 million, Schilke said.
“We know this is a highly congested corridor. We know there are needs out here. It needs to be addressed. We asked how we can best address the needs, what is the best solution? The best is to have two (toll) lanes in each direction,” he said.
A public-private partnership may pay for the project, he said. Or the Illinois Tollway may be involved. Or it may be a combination.
Summit Mayor Sergio Rodriguez isn’t sold on the toll lanes: “I see people abusing those lanes if they don’t block them off.”
Rodriguez envisions motorists sneaking into the toll lanes and then back into the free lanes.
That would be combatted with cameras that take photos of license plates on offending vehicles, Schilke said. “Then you’d get a violation notice. It would take a couple of times for people to learn (not to do that),” Schilke said.
Even if the toll lanes are added, Zilinski thinks eventually we’ll have the same old congestion problems again on the Stevenson. “It’s going to get crowded again. People find the new lanes.”
Rodriguez said more lanes “will lead to more people driving until they change habits and we have more people using public transportation like buses or the Metra. What will we have one day, a seven-lane highway?”
IDOT invites people to send comments to www.155managedlaneproject.org.
— Desplaines Valley News