Illinois Tollway approves $4 billion Tri-State widening project

Illinois Tollway approves $4 billion Tri-State widening project

Despite the massive size and scope of the project to widen the Tri-State, the Illinois Tollway board suggests new tolls and taxes won’t be needed ­– but history shows that promises related to tolls in Illinois haven’t held up in the past.

The Illinois Tollway board unanimously voted April 28 on a $4 billion plan to widen the Tri-State Tollway, which runs from the Indiana state line at South Holland to the Wisconsin border at Newton Township, saying it can be funded without tax money and without increasing tolls.

The Chicago Tribune reported construction would run from 2021 to 2025, after planning and discussions with the community. It is not known if any homes or businesses would be displaced because of the expansion, but the Tollway Board said congestion would get worse in the next two decades without widening.

Officials insisted that not only would the project be funded without increased tolls, but would also not rely on state, federal or local government money. Rather, Tollway staff said improved toll collection, excess revenue from other Tollway projects, incremental revenue from new I-294 lanes, lower debt service costs and additional borrowing could finance the project.

But given the Illinois Tollway’s history, taxpayers should be skeptical of the cost on a project this massive. Former Gov. Bill Stratton, who held office from 1953 to 1961 during the creation of the Illinois Tollway, said in 1989 that the purpose of the tolls originally was to pay for bonding needed to build the highways. Once the bonds were paid off, the tolls would come off, too.

That, of course, did not happen. The bonds were paid off in the early 1980s, but the tolls remain to this day. The tolls act as a reminder of politicians’ approaches to revenue grabs.

Illinoisans know that well. Springfield lawmakers tried to make the “temporary” 2011 income tax increase permanent in 2015. Though they failed then, lawmakers have gone right back to the tax-hike drawing board this year, and proposed multibillion tax hikes, including another income tax hike virtually back up to the 2011 rate. With flip-flops like that, it’s not a surprise that Illinoisans have the least amount of confidence in state government than any other state in the country.

Taxpayers in the areas surrounding the Tri-State should be skeptical when hearing news of a multibillion project. All proposed funding sources – from relying on “improved” toll collection to additional borrowing – could have an impact on taxpayers. Given the already-hefty tax burden Illinoisans face and the failed past promises of the Illinois Tollway, questions should abound to the financing of a project this massive.

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