Illinois Tollway charges increase sharply Jan. 1 to help finance improvements to the system.
Get ready to dig a little deeper into those pockets — or maybe get out the wallet — if you're planning to travel on the Illinois Tollway system starting Jan. 1.
That's when toll charges will increase on the 286-mile system, which is mainly in northeastern Illinois. I-PASS users will see an 87.5 percent increase in charges, while those who use cash will continue to pay twice as much as I-PASS tolls.
The money will be used to help fund a $12.1-billion, 15-year road work program starting with the Tri-State Tollway and I-88 early next spring. Tollway officials say the program will help cut congestion and create jobs.
When the state began building the tollway system in the 1950s, it promised that the initial 187 miles of toll roads would become freeways once the bonds were paid off. It hasn't quite worked out that way.
The Illinois Tollway authority says the promise to turn the toll road into freeways "was well-intentioned, but shortsighted."
The tollway system receives no state or federal funds for maintenance and operations, so tolls are necessary to cover the cost of services such as Illinois State Police, snow plowing, road maintenance and reconstruction and new construction.
Tollway officials point out that it has not raised rates since 1983 and that even with the increases, Illinois tolls will still be among the least expensive in the nation.
While the increase no doubt irks some drivers who regularly use the tollways, the area's congested freeways and roads are not good alternatives for commuters.
So look at it for what it is — an increase in a user fee that will help improve the system. And besides, there's something in it for those of us who drive to the Chicago area from the south. Construction is scheduled to start this spring on a new interchange at Interstate 57 and I-294, which for some inexplicable reason was not part of the original plan. Ramps are expected to open in 2014.