Illinois State Toll Highway Authority
Seal of the ISTHA
Logo, using alternate name
|Headquarters||2700 Ogden Avenue, Downers Grove, Illinois
|Annual budget||$696 million|
|Parent agency||State of Illinois|
The Illinois State Toll Highway Authority (ISTHA) is an administrative agency of the State of Illinois, United States. The roads, as well as the Authority itself, are sometimes referred to as the Illinois Tollway.[a] The system opened in 1958 in the Chicago area, and has subsequently expanded to include the eastern and central sections of Interstate 88 (I-88) extending into the northwestern part of the state. Beginning in 2005, the system was reconstructed to include more lanes and open tolling. Open tolling uses I-Pass transponders to collect revenue as vehicles pass antennas at toll plazas or designated entrance or exit ramps. As of 2016[update], ISTHA maintains and operates 292 miles (470 km) of tollways in 12 counties in Northern Illinois.
The Tollway's board of directors has eleven members. The Governor of Illinois and the head of the Illinois Department of Transportation serve as ex officio members of the Tollway Board. The remaining 9 members are named by the governor. No more than 5 appointed members may be of the same political party as the governor. The Authority has the power to collect and raise tolls, and is responsible for the maintenance and construction of tollway roads and related signage (including electronic message boards, used for driving time notices, Amber Alerts and other notifications). The Tollway also supervises and manages the seven Illinois Tollway oases. The close relationship between the governor and the near-majority of appointed board members has led to numerous allegations of endemic corruption throughout the tollway authority's lifetime.
The ISTHA's annual budget for fiscal year 2010 totals $696 million. The ISTHA has 1,704 full-time employees, of which 754 are toll collectors. As of January 1, 2010, ISTHA has $4,074,675,000 in bond debt, which have been rated Aa3, AA- and AA- by Moody’s Investors Service, Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor's, respectively. The ISTHA has the power to take lands by eminent domain, and ISTHA's employees are subject to conflict of interest laws enacted in 2005.
The Executive Director of ISTHA supervises 12 departments.
The Tollway is patrolled by both police and non-police fleets. The Tollway comprises a separate Illinois State Police District 15, one of 21 districts of the Illinois State Police. ISTHA also operates a fleet of Highway Emergency Lane Patrol vehicles which assist stranded motorists with mechanical problems, flat tires or insufficient fuel. Each year, the H.E.L.P. Trucks assist more than 35,000 motorists and log nearly 1.5 million patrol miles.
The original Toll Highway Authority was established in 1941. After construction of the first toll highways in Illinois was delayed by World War II, the Illinois State Toll Highway Commission was established in 1953. The first three toll highways in the Chicago area were all planned, constructed, and finally opened in 1958 under the authority of this Commission. These first three toll highways are the present day Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90/I-39/US 51), the Tri-State Tollway (I-94/I-294) and the Ronald Reagan Memorial Tollway (I-88, between Hillside and Sugar Grove). The first segment to open was the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway between Devon Avenue and Elgin on August 20, 1958 at 3 p.m. The Toll Highway Act, in its present form, dates from 1967, but has been amended since. Under this Act, promulgated April 1, 1968, ISTHA assumed the assets and obligations of the Illinois State Toll Highway Commission.
In the 1970s, the East–West Tollway was extended west from Sugar Grove to Dixon with a freeway continuing to the Quad Cities. The route was later given the I-88 designation in order to obtain a higher speed limit. In 2004, ISTHA voted to rename this route the Ronald Reagan Memorial Tollway.
In June 1984, Republican minority leader of the Illinois House of Representatives, James "Pate" Philip, helped push through legislation authorizing the construction of the North–South Tollway, then referred to as simply the DuPage Tollway. Officials at the Morton Arboretum, one of the nation's premier woodland research centers, promptly filed a federal lawsuit to block construction of the tollway. They also promised to prevent the tollway authority from obtaining environmental approval from federal officials. Ultimately, the lawsuit was settled, and I-355 was opened in 1989 as a tollway between Army Trail Road and I-55 near Bollingbrook. On November 24, 2007, a 12.5 miles (20.1 km) extension of I-355 opened to link I-55 to I-80. Construction of that I-355 extension began after years of delays and environmental litigation.
The Illinois Tollway website officially launched on September 1, 1997. The website includes online ordering of I-Pass transponders and managing I-Pass accounts. In 2009-2010, the website underwent a $4.4 million e-commerce overhaul.
In 2004, ISTHA made a strategic decision to expand and improve the tollway system instead of converting the roads to freeways. It adopted a $6.3 billion congestion-relief program named "Open Roads for a Faster Future". Under the program, the main toll plazas were rebuilt to have open road tolling, so that drivers with transponders would drive at normal speeds under toll collecting equipment instead of stopping to pay tolls. The toll plazas were relocated to the side of the road to handle vehicles without transponders. The plan also included widening many of the toll roads, and resurfacing the others. I-355 was extended south of I-55 to connect to I-80 in New Lenox, a distance of 12.5 miles (20.1 km), in order to serve fast-growing areas of Will County. The project also includes adding an interchange between the Tri-State Tollway and I-57. These improvements were financed by long-term revenue bonds that require the system to remain as toll roads until the bonds are repaid in 2034.
In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (stimulus bill) provided for federal subsidies of certain construction bonds. As a result, 35% of the interest expense from ISTHA's 2009 bonds will be paid by the Federal Government. On November 24, 2009, ISTHA sold $240 million in such bonds and had sold another $400 million in May 2009.
As of 2016[update], ISTHA maintains and operates 292 miles (470 km) of tollways in 12 counties in northern Illinois, comprising five routes:
- Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-39/I-90/US 51)
- Veterans Memorial Tollway (I-355)
- Ronald Reagan Memorial Tollway/Chicago–Kansas City Expressway (I-88/IL 56/IL 110)
- Tri-State Tollway (I-41/I-80/I-94/I-294/US 41)
- Elgin-O'Hare Tollway (IL 390)
Except for the vicinity of O'Hare International Airport, none enter the city of Chicago. The Chicago Skyway, which is owned by the City of Chicago but on a 99-year lease to the Skyway Concession Company, is the only toll road in Illinois that is not operated by ISTHA.
ISTHA sets its tolls at a level necessary to maintain and operate the system while retiring its bond debt, and it is required to conduct public hearings on any proposed toll increase. In 1958, the tolls were set at 25 cents at the main plazas and 10 cents at the exit ramps. In 1983, the tolls increased to 40 cents at the main plazas and 15 cents at most ramps. With the advent of the I-Pass system in 2005, the tolls for cash payments were doubled, while rates for cars equipped with I-Pass transponders remained the same. On January 1, 2012, tolls increased by 87 percent, to 75 cents at the main plazas for transponder-equipped cars, and $1.50 for those paying cash. In addition, congestion pricing is used to charge trucks a rate which is $0.50 or $1.00 higher during rush hour than during off-peak hours.
Users pay tolls at designated plaza either by driving under a transponder antenna or by driving through a toll gate and paying cash. The cash price is twice the transponder price. Lesser tolls are also collected on entrance and exit ramps that are near the main toll plazas so that the average toll is about 2.6 cents per mile (1.6 ¢/km) for passenger vehicles with I-Pass. Trucks and commercial vehicles pay a higher toll, with a discount for travel during non-peak hours. The current rate structure is projected to generate $850 million in annual revenue by 2012.
Until the mid-1970s, the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (then the Northwest Tollway) used a ticket system on the segment between Elgin and Beloit to collect tolls based upon the exact mileage traveled. Drivers were handed a Hollerith card when they entered the segment and paid a toll when they left.
I-Pass is the Illinois Tollway’s electronic transponder toll collection system that allows drivers to pre-pay their tolls. As of 2010[update], Tollway drivers use 3.3 million I-Pass transponders. Every toll lane on the system is equipped to accept I-Pass which can also be used on the Chicago Skyway and anywhere E-ZPass is accepted. (E-ZPass is a transponder consortium of toll road authorities on the East Coast.)
A refundable deposit of $10 and $20 in pre-paid tolls is charged at the time of purchase. Illinois Tollway offers an auto-pay replenishment option by registering a credit or debit card to an I-Pass account at the time of activation. Each month, the minimum balance and replenishment amounts are recalculated based on the average usage during the previous six months. A special program for low-income motorists allows them to obtain I-Pass units with a reduced outlay of $20.
Users choosing to replenish their account without auto-pay are responsible for monitoring their transactions and balance and must pay a $20 refundable deposit. There are various options for self-pay replenishment, including the Tollway Service Centers located at five oasis rest stops. Customers wishing to pay by check or cash can pay at the oasis customer service centers or can buy $20 I-Pass Gift Cards at Jewel-Osco.
The Illinois Tollway has implemented open road tolling, allowing any vehicle with an I-Pass compatible transponder (including I-Zoom and E-ZPass users) to continue through the toll plaza at highway speeds while those paying cash have to stop at a tollbooth. If a vehicle registered with I-Pass passes through a toll collection without the transponder, the toll amount will be automatically deducted from the respective I-Pass account. This process is called "V-Tolls" (Video Tolls).
In 2004, the Illinois Auditor General criticized the I-Pass system, because the system failed to check whether the transponder used correlated with the class of vehicle detected at a tolling point. As a result, large trucks may have been paying the lower tolls for passenger cars. The audit reports also found that ISTHA did not send out violation notices for all detected violations and did not properly follow up when drivers did not respond to the notices that were sent.
The ISTHA and the Toll Highway System in Illinois have undergone much criticism since the 1980s. Construction of the North–South Tollway (I-355) was delayed, in part, due to a dispute with the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois. Original plans for this toll highway would have seen it constructed through the middle of land belonging to the Arboretum, and closer to the existing Illinois Route 53. Construction on other projects has also been delayed, mostly through protests by area residents.
The ISTHA located its headquarters near the intersection of Interstates 88 and 355, in Downers Grove, Illinois in a helipad-equipped facility derisively nicknamed by press and politicians as the "Taj Mahal". Visitors to the building are greeted by marble flooring and other niceties.
Further criticism in the 1980s and 1990s has centered on the continued existence of the ISTHA itself, and its quasi-independent status from even the Illinois General Assembly. The original decision to build the tollway was made in an era when five states used toll roads to create a superhighway between New York and Chicago. This predated the Interstate Highway System and the associated funding from federal gasoline taxes. Critics argue that Tollway users are paying twice, first by paying tolls and then by paying the same gasoline taxes that other motorists pay. Citizens' groups formed in the 1990s to try to force the ISTHA to disband, and convert the toll highways in Illinois into freeways. This stems from the 1953 law that established the then Illinois State Toll Highway Commission. By 1999, Governor George Ryan began to publicly discuss the closure of the ISTHA and the abolition of toll collection in Illinois, but the plans were eclipsed by Ryan's increasing scandals. After Ryan declined to run for re-election and his successor, Governor Rod Blagojevich, had been elected (but had not yet taken office), the ISTHA board publicly suggested a sudden hike in toll rates that the new Governor could simply blame on his outgoing predecessor. The previous adjustment to Illinois toll rates had taken place in 1983. The ISTHA would have been able to raise rates without approval of the Illinois General Assembly because of its quasi-independent nature. However, a rate hike did not go into effect at that time. Ultimately, the toll rates for I-Pass users remained at 1983 prices while the toll rate for cash payers doubled. Practically, the I-Pass system and open road tolling appears to have removed the annoying aspect of toll collection which motivated many toll opponents, and subsequently the calls to ending the tolls have quieted.
One aspect of the argument is that by having a single toll road system for the state that controls the major commuter routes into Chicago and the major circumferential route around the city, commuters and long-haul truckers who use the original system that was built in 1958 are subsidizing the subsequent routes, I-88 to Dixon and I-355 in DuPage County. As a result, instead of the original routes becoming freeway, the revenues from the original system subsidized less intensively used routes that could not be financed on a stand-alone basis.
Other criticism has involved the use of the I-Pass transponder system. First, some of this criticism has come from privacy advocates, who decry the use of tracking transponders. In response, ISTHA is upgrading the security of its data networks. Second, other I-Pass related criticism came in late 2004, when higher tolls were proposed for drivers who do not use the I-Pass system. Tolls were doubled for non-I-Pass users as of January 1, 2005. Third, controversy surrounded the reciprocal use of I-Pass by Illinois motorists and I-Zoom by Indiana motorists on the other state's toll road. Each state charges the other a transaction fee when the out-of-state transponder is used to pay a toll. Until January 1, 2010, the fee was absorbed, with I-Pass users paying twice as many Indiana tolls and I-Zoom users paying Illinois tolls. To address this imbalance, ITR Concession Co began charging I-Pass users a 3 cent surcharge on each of their Indiana tolls, effective January 1, 2010.
Tolls were also raised on that date for drivers of larger vehicles. Under the congestion relief strategy, creating financial incentives for commercial and interstate truckers to use the tollways at non-peak travel times would reduce delays for daily commuters. Tractor-trailer drivers now have to pay increased rates during peak travel times (generally daytime hours during weekdays), but may pay decreased rates during non-peak travel times (though these rates are still an increase over those that were in effect until January 1, 2005). Some truck drivers had threatened court action or boycotts of the toll highway system.
The Sierra Club criticized the capital projects as adding to urban sprawl while hurting air quality. In response, the expense of the Open Road Tolling Program has justified by claiming it significantly decreases the amount of pollution from vehicle exhaust that enters the air. This is because the old barrier style tollbooths adds to the amount of time that certain vehicles spend on the roadway by requiring them to slow down, stop, and sometimes idle for several minutes while waiting to pay their tolls. The introduction of the I-Pass system has greatly alleviated this problem since all vehicles with an I-Pass or E-Zpass can continue to travel at normal highway speeds through the toll plazas.
In 2003, during Governor George Ryan's administration, the ISTHA entered into a public-private partnership with Wilton Partners to renovate the oasis rest stops in exchange for a 25-year lease. That lease has been the subject of various investigations, including the political connections between food vendors in the oases with former Governor Blagojevich. Ultimately, Wilton Partners' lender foreclosed on the Oases.
The ISTHA experienced high leadership turnover amid controversy. On November 19, 2008, Jeffrey Dailey began serving as Executive Director of ISTHA. On December 9, 2008, Governor Blagojevich was arrested on corruption charges including allegations that he solicited campaign donations from Tollway construction contractors. On December 18, Dalley resigned claiming that Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan would not grant waivers from the state ethics law that prohibited high level ISTHA executives from being employed by contractors within a year of leaving office. In January 2009, Governor Blagojevich was impeached, tried, and removed from office for abuse of power, and was succeeded by Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn. Following this, the ISTHA Board appointed a new chief executive without consulting Quinn. On August 12, 2009, John Mitola, who was appointed the ISTHA Board Chairman in 2003 by Governor Blagojevich, resigned for personal reasons. The next day, Governor Quinn appointed a new chairman and two new board members. Ex-ISTHA Chairman Mitola was reported to have failed to disclose an investment in a real estate development with former state purchasing and contracting CEO Michael Rumman under ousted Governor Blagojevich. In addition, a number of top ISTHA staff members have left in 2009.
Congestion Relief Program
|Jane Addams Memorial Tollway||$772,700,000|
|Ronald Reagan Memorial Tollway||$1,077,800,000|
|Veterans Memorial Tollway[b]||$823,500,000|
|Open road tolling||$729,300,000|
|System wide improvements/interchanges||$688,900,000|
|Includes $115 million of reimbursed expenses|
The Congestion Relief Program was a series of projects that reconstructed and restored the majority of the original tollway system, as well as expanded access.
Projects in the Congestion Relief Program included:
- Converting all mainline toll plazas to Open Road Tolling, which allows vehicles with transponders to drive at highway speeds through dedicated lanes.
- Reconstructing and widening the Reagan Memorial Tollway (I-88) from York Road to IL 59 to eight lanes and from the Aurora Toll Plaza to IL 56 to six lanes.
- Reconstructing and widening the Tri-State Tollway (I-294 and I-94) to eight lanes from 95th Street to IL 394, Balmoral Avenue to Lake Cook Road, and from Half Day Road to Russell Road.
- Extending the Veterans Memorial Tollway (I-355) 12.5 miles (20.1 km) from I-55 to I-80 as well as resurfacing and widening the roadway to eight lanes from Ogden Avenue to 75th Street.
- A reconfiguration and reconstruction of the Cherry Valley Interchange on the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90) as well as reconstructing and widening the roadway to six lanes between Newburg Road and Rockton Road.
The multi-year Congestion Relief Program is expected to cost $6.1 billion, down from an original estimate of $6.3 billion.
The Move Illinois Program is a 15-year, $12 billion capital program that began in 2012. This program will address the remaining needs of tollway system not addressed by the Congestion Relief Program, as well as construct several new projects. The program is expected to create 120,000 jobs and add $21 billion to the economy.
Projects in Move Illinois include:
- Reconstructing and widening the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90) to six lanes from I-39 to the Elgin Toll Plaza and eight lanes from the Elgin Toll Plaza to the Kennedy Expressway. The inside shoulders will be widened to accommodate future transit opportunities and active traffic management will be deployed between on the eastern segment between IL 59 and the Kennedy Expressway. In addition, several interchanges will be improved.
- Reconstructing the central Tri-State Tollway (I-294) between 95th Street and Balmoral Avenue. Like I-90, this project could include additional travel lanes, wider shoulders for transit, active traffic management and improved interchanges. A master plan is currently being developed and plans will be finalized by 2017.
- Constructing an interchange between I-294 and I-57 (previously, the Interstates crossed, but had no direct connection).
- Rehabilitating, widening and extending IL 390 (formerly the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway) east to O'Hare International Airport and building the new O'Hare West Bypass around the western edge of O'Hare from I-90 to I-294.
- Planning for the proposed Illinois Route 53/120 project.
- In reports on the Authority in the press, such as those by the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune and the Daily Herald, the Authority's full name is used. On some of the Authority's signage, and in letters to the editor, "Illinois Tollway" is used. The Authority's official website uses both.
- Includes $729 million for extending I-355 south from I-55 to I-80 in Will County.
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