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Highway Motoring for Mere Pennies per Mile

"5 Things You Should Know About Our Tollway," thanks to a talk by Kristi Lafleur, the toll way authority's executive director.

Did you know it costs you just three to four cents per mile to drive our state's toll highways? In this economy, every penny counts.

As the Illinois Toll Highway Authority lays plans for the next decade of projects and improvements, Executive Director Kristi Lafleur says the economy will be a prime consideration in all decisions.

"How do we promote economic development and job creation?" Lafleur asked, noting that the Toll Authority needs to partner with the communities it serves to help foster commercial growth and employment opportunities.

Lafleur, 36, the first woman to lead the Toll Authority, addressed the Southland Chamber of Commerce's monthly luncheon at the Monday.

Here are five things you should know about our toll ways, culled from her talk on the agency's plans and budget decisions.

1. Pennies per Mile: The three to four cents per mile toll rate is the second lowest rate in the nation. The system projects $680 million in revenue for 2011, and about $670 million of that will come from tolls.

2. Open Government: In a bid for transparency, the agency's board meetings are now webcast on the tollway Web site.

3. I-Pass Keeps Cars Moving: About 1.4 million vehicles are rolling somewhere along the 286 miles of toll roads in northern Illinois each day. And about 83 percent of drivers are using the I-Pass system.

4. Budget Cuts: For the first time since the toll way authority was formed in 1958, the agency reduced its annual operating budget. Operating expenses were cut four percent for 2011 due to the economy, said Lafleur, who was appointed to this post last March.

5. Big on Dreams, Short on Dollars: The toll way system has $16 billion in "aspirational plans," according to LaFleur, including the Illiana Expressway and an interchange where Interstate 57 and Interstate 294 overlap but do not connect. At the same time, maintaining the existing highway system for 10 years will cost $6.1 billion, and the agency only projects revenue at $5.1 billion.

The Illiana Expressway and an interchange at I-57 and I-294 are big-ticket items long sought after in the Chicago Southland.

Alas, they remain mere plans.

"This (visit) would have been more exciting if I could announce a multibillion-dollar project for the south suburbs," Lafleur told the luncheon guests.

Matt Aggen April 17, 2011 at 11:39 PM
If the 57/294 interchange is a "mere plan," then what is going on with the construction in that very spot?
Dennis Robaugh April 18, 2011 at 12:17 AM
The Tollway Authority will be working with IDOT on this project. According to IDOT, this is the first of 11 contracts for the complete interchange. "Contract No. 1 calls for removing and replacing the northbound and southbound Interstate 57 bridges over Interstate 294. In addition, Interstate 57 will be widened to accommodate the traffic movements of the future interchange. ... The first contract will be constructed with State-only funds." The work on these bridges began in the fall of 2010 and will be finished sometime in 2012. But the interchange is a long way away. Future contracts will be dependent on federal approval and funding from the Federal Highway Administration.
Juvenal April 22, 2011 at 06:52 PM
The toll authority was established to pay down road construction bonds that should have been retired decades ago. Why does it even exist?
Darryl Kowalewski April 22, 2011 at 07:52 PM
It's good to hear that authority now has a leader working tword transparency, and more realistic budgeting. Best of luck to you Kristi Lafleur, a lot of disillusioned Chicago area residents are counting on you to straighten out that bureaucracy. So far so good, keep up the hard work.

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