Adding tolls

I wrote earlier about how the Kennedy and Dan Ryan are perfect opportunities to introduce congestion pricing — with separate express lane infrastructure, parallel transit, and I-Pass already in place.

Yet right now we’re moving the other way. A Crosstown truck route would only funnel away through-traveling trucks that should be on I-294 (Tri-State Tollway) anyways, and if it were a tollway (as Madigan suggests, to raise the tens of billions necessary) it wouldn’t do anything to keep the freeloaders off 90-94. Meanwhile, Chicago wants to use $117 million in PFC charges [ticket taxes] to widen I-190 to O’Hare — charging everyone, including connecting passengers and those of us who take the [achingly slow, 15-mph, in need of $54 million to replace faulty, disintegrating ties] train, to speed drivers off the Northwest Tollway. Huh?

If freeloading trucks are a problem, then stop the freeloading: toll 90-94. If I-190 needs $100,000,000 to unsnarl traffic, then make the drivers along that route pay: simply move the toll barriers half a mile and add I-190 to the tollway network. Airport-goers are a remarkably price-insensitive bunch, anyhow.

update 26 Feb: one week after revealing the I-190 plans, Jon Hilkevitch writes that fixing up the Blue Line (now up to 22% in slow zones) will cost… $100 million, which, of course, CTA doesn’t have in the absence of an Illinois FIRST successor. It took 70 minutes to get from O’Hare to Monroe this morning, a full 55% longer than the “scheduled 45 minutes” that Mr. Friendly Announcer used to promise to passengers boarding at O’Hare and which signs inside the terminal walkways still proclaim.

Also, Dennis Byrne writes of the Crosstown in a Trib op: “As if Daley doesn’t have enough concrete to pour to keep him and his contracting buddies content for the rest of his lifetime reign. Maybe the city should buy up a bunch of vacant lots that he can pave over just to keep him and his pals happy. It certainly would be a better use of the money.”

UPDATE: comments closed due to spam

5 thoughts on “Adding tolls

  1. how about get rid of trucks and put in modernized freight rail? Highway stuff always plunges forward with the same broken premise, that more roads = better when getting less traffic on the existing roads is the real solution (or better yet, relocalizing the economy, but that’s an entirely other barrel of oil…we have the same thing happening in Montreal with a boulevard being widened to accommodate truck traffic, in addition to a ring road to let trucks avoid going through the city, but it all seems so pointless and doesn’t address the root issues: atoms vs. bits, local manufacturing, efficiencies of rail vs. trucks. (In fact, Western farmers are now agitating for the return of freight for grain, because the grain pools have moved exclusively to truck transport…)

  2. Interestingly, LA Times writer Steve Hymon lays out a convincing case for tolling the approach roads to LAX in a recent column.

    We promised in this space last week to propose one place where a toll or congestion pricing might work. We’re not saying we’re right, but this is an idea that has been thrown around privately by politicians.

    The idea is this: Because there is only one way in and out of the central terminal area at LAX, it would be possible to construct toll booths to charge private vehicles entering the main airport route that leads to the terminals.

    Theoretically, the toll to enter the airport would be higher during LAX’s busiest periods. If it worked, the toll might accomplish two goals: discourage people from driving to the airport and raise money for other airport transportation projects.

    And it seemingly would be easier to build toll booths than to construct new lanes on freeways.

    More than 25.6 million vehicles entered the central terminal area last year, according to LAX officials, although the data don’t show how many of those were private passenger vehicles as opposed to buses, cabs, etc. If a toll were a minimum of $5, and 8 million of those cars were private — a conservative estimate — tolling theoretically could raise at least $40 million a year.

    It may not even be a tough sell politically. LAX is owned and operated by the city of Los Angeles, but many of its passengers live elsewhere in the region… It doesn’t take a genius to imagine a proposal for the federal funds that would have introduced some type of congestion pricing for the airport and used tolls collected to expand the FlyAway buses throughout the region…

    “It’s definitely worth exploring,” said Councilman Bill Rosendahl, whose Westside district includes LAX.

    And here I was, thinking that he would have nominated the frightfully expensive, woefully underused Harbor Transitway as a HOT project.

  3. I finally got mad enough to write a letter — well, a fax/letter.

    To: Mayor Richard M. Daley (312-744-2324)
    Alderman Brian Doherty (312-744-6824)
    Federal Aviation Administration, Chicago District (847-294-7046)
    Aviation Commissioner Nuria Fernandez (P.O. Box 66142, Chicago 60666)
    Acting Transportation Commissioner Cheri Heramb (312-744-1200)
    Acting Executive Director Brian McPartlin, ISTHA (630-241-6100)

    To the above duly elected and appointed officials:

    In February of this year, I read in the Chicago Tribune that the City of Chicago was studying using $117 million in passenger facility charges (PFCs, i.e., ticket taxes) to widen I-190 to O’Hare. As a frequent O’Hare traveler who, like 6.6 million people every year, takes the shamefully slow CTA Blue Line service to O’Hare, I am disappointed in this proposal to misappropriate funds from airport passengers (most of whom do not use I-190, but either take the train or just change planes) to those driving to the airport. I have rarely seen I-190 congested from the Blue Line — indeed, at nearly all hours, the train inches along that same stretch of I-190 at a sorry 15 M.P.H. over tracks that are literally splintering apart, while traffic freely flows alongside. Track conditions on the Blue Line have deteriorated so far that the O’Hare to Loop trip now takes at least 50% longer than the advertised 45 minutes.

    I fully support the use of PFCs at O’Hare to underwrite the O’Hare Modernization Project, which will benefit all O’Hare passengers by reducing air traffic control delays. However, I believe that congestion along I-190 is not an appropriate use of PFCs. Instead, any improvements to I-190 should be paid for by those who drive alongside it. I am enclosing a recent article from the Los Angeles Times, in which a city councilman there agrees that adding tolls to roads approaching LAX International Airport is “definitely worth exploring.” The article tosses out a preliminary estimate of $40 million a year in revenue from an airport-road toll, and points out that since LAX (just like O’Hare) is controlled by the city while most of those driving to it live elsewhere.

    Ample precedent exists for charging airport travelers an additional fee: most obviously the Dulles Toll Road in Virginia, but also transit fare systems in St. Louis and Philadelphia that levy additional charges on airport boardings — and, in fact, our very own Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority tax on airport taxi boardings. Airport-goers have proven in many studies to be remarkably price-insensitive, as they are disproportionately high-income individuals who value convenience over cost.

    The tolls could also vary by time of day. Congestion pricing on roadways has been shown to be a very effective means of balancing traffic loads, reallocating travel demand from peak hours to non-peak hours. As such, tolls might simultaneously reduce demand — obviating the need for an expensive roadway widening — while also raising revenue.

    Indeed, it would be much easier to add a toll to I-190 in Chicago than to World Way in Los Angeles. The toll booths for the Northwest Tollway are currently located just northwest of where I-190 splits from I-90. Simply moving those tollbooths half a mile south, and executing a revenue sharing or similar intergovernmental agreement with the tollway authority, would accomplish this aim of raising millions of dollars annually for ground-side transportation improvements at one of the world’s busiest airports — perhaps even to repair the decrepit Blue Line tracks.

    I urge you to consider this sensible, market-based, revenue-positive proposal for untying the ground transportation situation at O’Hare International Airport.

    Respectfully yours,

    Payton Chung

  4. With increasing costs for gasoline and diesel, along with declining taxes and declining gasoline tax revenues, states and local governments will eventually have to cut staff and curtail highway maintenance. ,

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