$20M Illinois Tollway machines get parked after 4 years

$20M Illinois Tollway machines get parked after 4 years

Illinois Tollway’s automatic toll payment machines cost as much as they collected in four years, but are now permanently idled. Most were incapable of making change, so overcharged drivers nearly $500,000.

The Illinois Tollway’s automatic toll collecting machines are now dead weight, representing a $20 million investment that went wrong.

The tollway board purchased over 100 toll-collection machines in early 2017 to replace the aging toll baskets that were pricey to repair. The machines are now in storage because of the potential for drivers touching them to spread COVID-19.

The machines collected nearly $20 million during four years of operation, roughly making their purchase and maintenance costs a wash. But the Daily Herald reported 80 out of 110 machines didn’t provide change to drivers paying cash, which over the years tallied an estimated $463,992.

After COVID-19 hit in March 2020, the tollway implemented electronic tolling and shut down the machines to prevent the virus from spreading. Electronic transactions have been permanent for all tolls since February.

Spending $20 million on machines that are now unused relics isn’t the biggest affront by the Illinois Tollway, which has been a hotbed of patronage hiring and scandals.

Even at the tollway’s start in 1968, lawmakers promised tolls would be temporary. Politicians promised tolls would pay for the highway system’s construction, and they would be “toll free in ’73” when gas taxes would cover maintenance.

That never happened and turned out to be one of the state’s biggest broken promises. Five decades later, drivers are stuck with highway tolls that rose four times since 2009, with the nation’s second-highest gas taxes and with $20 million in useless toll machines.

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