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‘Congestion pricing’ can drive down travel times

Updated: December 19, 2012 1:25PM

‘Congestion pricing’ can drive down Chicago-area travel times

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning is urging that Gov. Pat Quinn, the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Illinois Tollway commit to congestion pricing as a tool to manage traffic for faster, reliable travel times.

This was recommended in the GO TO 2040 comprehensive plan adopted by the seven counties of northeastern Illinois. CMAP has created, with information about the benefits to our region’s residents.

Specifically, five GO TO 2040 expressway projects lend themselves to this approach: the Illinois Tollway’s new lane on the existing I-90 Addams expressway; two new expressways (the Elgin-O’Hare West Bypass and the Route 53 north extension and Route 120 bypass); and IDOT’s planned additional lane on two existing expressways (I-55 Stevenson and I-290 Eisenhower).

CMAP’s analysis shows that express-lane drivers during the morning rush, for example, on I-55 traveling from I-355 would reach downtown 25 minutes faster for $2.75. With congestion pricing, toll rates in express lanes rise at times when more drivers want to use the highway, and tolls fall when demand is low. Supply and demand will help manage highway resources more effectively, as drivers choose when to use the express toll lanes based on the variable cost.

In the past two decades, 10 other states have successfully implemented congestion pricing, and public support has increased as drivers become familiar with it. A recent survey of drivers on the SR-91 Express Lanes in Orange County, Calif., found that 90 percent of users were satisfied with the facility.

While express-lane revenues could help pay a portion of a roadway’s costs, the primary rationale of congestion pricing is to manage traffic more effectively. Congestion pricing would yield travel time savings of 23 minutes on I-290, 25 minutes on I-55, and 11 minutes on I-90. On the two new tollway facilities, compared to current travel times, the express lanes would improve by 10 minutes on the Elgin-O’Hare West Bypass and 31 minutes on the IL 53 north extension and Route 120 bypass.

With construction approaching for these two new expressways and three new lanes on existing ones, now is the time for our state and region to make a strong commitment to congestion pricing. It is a crucial step to ensure reliable travel times and maximize the benefit of these planned transportation assets.

Randy Blankenhorn

Executive director

Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning

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