Illinois Tollway overcharged drivers $152K last year by not giving change

Illinois Tollway overcharged drivers $152K last year by not giving change

The Illinois Tollway is spending $33 million on toll machines, some of which can’t make change. The state agency’s legacy is broken promises, political patronage and overcharging Illinoisans.

The Illinois State Toll Highway Authority took in an extra $152,000 from automated toll machines that don’t make change in 2019, according to reporting from the Daily Herald.

Machines make change on 30 toll plaza locations, but not on 80 ramp locations.

Things were worse in 2017, when the tollway’s coin hoppers took in $400,000 more than expected. The new machines are an improvement, authority spokesman Dan Rozek said.

“With nearly a billion transactions a year, our customers now have more ways than ever to pay their exact toll amount, and they’re taking advantage as seen by the continual decline in cash revenue,” Rozek said.

Drivers who don’t want to give up their change have options, he said. They can use I-PASS, which costs half as much as cash tolls. The new machines also give tickets to pay online and take credit cards, Google Pay and Apple Pay.

The tollway is about halfway into a $33 million upgrade of the toll collection system, with the machines that give change costing about $73,000 each.

But overcharging still adds insult to injury from a state agency that residents were promised would cease to exist more than four decades ago.

When state politicians created the tollway in 1953, the tolls were to pay for building 186 miles of interstate highway. The popular promise was to be “toll free in ’73,” but the authority was made permanent despite generating more revenue than needed.

The next political promise to eliminate tolls came from Gov. George Ryan in 1999. That proposal ended with his governorship in 2003.

During the past decade tolls have been hiked four times, from 80 cents to the current $1.50. Revenues collected from tolls and fines for missed tolls have gone up 90% in just 10 years. The tollway budget more than doubled to $1.5 billion in fiscal year 2019 from $680 million a decade ago.

The tollway’s 2018 annual report touted its more than 1,400 state employees. And it’s those jobs and the contracts available through the tollway that keep politicians from both parties happy to let it grow. Former governors Jim Thompson, Jim Edgar, Rod Blagojevich and Bruce Rauner all had their own tollway scandalsover conflicts of interest and patronage.

As Illinois is forced to confront its culture of corruption, the tollway stands as an example of politicians being unable to keep their promises to constituents – especially when a crony or family member can profit. Maybe this and other broken promises would be good to remember as voters are asked Nov. 3 to give state lawmakers greater authority to change state income tax rates through a progressive tax.

Taking another $3.7 billion from a shrinking state isn’t chump change.

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