Illinois Tollway spelling out a new interchange cost sharing policy - new politics too

August 16, 2012

2012-08-16: The Illinois Tollway has published a draft "Interchange and Roadway Cost Sharing Policy" for comment. It looks to be an effort to support an ordered technocratic decisionmaking process where otherwise quasi-corrupt politics or crony capitalism often prevails.

The policy document idealizes how decisions might be made on projects that pop up outside those specified in the Tollway's longterm capital plan (known by the Tollway under the slogan-name 'Move Illinois.')

Guidelines for new ones are that:

- applications must come from public agencies (no direct Tollway deals with developers)

- usefulness to trucking preferred

- ownership of right-of-way an advantage

- proposals must have a financing plan for the non-Tollway share of funding

- consideration of how tolls will operate and be set with the new facility

Seven criteria are listed that could get the Tollway to contribute over 50% of the cost of a new interchange or nearby road improvements:

1) extra revenue projected that exceeds 50 percent of the project cost over the first 10 years

 2) project provides improved access to a strategic regional arterial roadway or designated truck route

3) in a rural area a project recovers the Tollway investment through new revenues within 15 years

4) the applicant has a majority of right-of-way for the project, or land donations are likely

5) financing the Tollway's share with cash down and reimbursement from the Tollway

6) the project provides multiple purposes - transit, commercial parking, accident investigation and the like

7) project involves pooling of resources by multiple public agencies

No detriment to mainline operations

The policy stresses that new interchanges must not compromise the speed and safety of the existing system, suggesting any new interchanger amps must a distance from any existing ones.

The new policy document requires an initial Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to indicate the applicants commitment to the project, before the Tollway commits to evaluating it.

Next is a formal request with details of the need for the project, impact on traffic and financing, capital and maintenance. Cost estimates must be provided.

Major engineering study probably needed

The details required are sufficiently detailed and comprehensive - requiring projections of traffic diversions and impacts on levels of service for example - they seem likely to require a full engineering and planning study.

For example on level of service:

"The applicant will perform a Level of Service (LOS) capacity analysis on: 1) the Tollway mainline, 2) the entrance ramp junction, 3) the exit ramp junction, and 4) the ramp intersection with the cross street. The LOS estimates should be provided for the opening year, the design year and an interim planning year. To be considered, the proposed interchange should perform at a minimum Level of Service = D. In certain instances, the Tollway may
consider proposals that do not meet the minimum LOS = D, if the proposal improves system performance. The applicant should make a best effort at
maintaining lane balance and should address operational concerns.

"In addition, the applicant will provide a 'no-build' scenario for opening year, the design year and an interim planning year. The applicant will then compare the Level of Service estimates as identified above to the 'no-build' scenario."

In general the Tollway requires a minimum distance from an existing interchange: in urban areas at least 1 mile, in suburban areas at least two miles and in rural areas 3 miles (AASHTO guidelines.)

The 12 decision areas

Twelve considerations will govern the Tollway's acceptance or rejection of new IC/roadway proposals:

- economic development benefit

- regional priority

- existing access

- operational effectiveness

- level of service

- access control/interchange spacing

- access to a SRA (strategic regional arterial route) route or designated truck route

- urban or rural location

- environmental impacts

- project costs

- future maintenance

Following approval there is to be an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) to give some contractual character to the deal.

Tollway leaders quotes

Illinois Tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur is quoted in a statement: ""The most common request we receive from the communities we serve is for new or expanded access to the Tollway system through interchanges.  Our goal is to develop a fair, consistent and streamlined approach to these requests so that we are better able to coordinate our resources and focus on projects that can foster regional economic development, job creation and freight access across Northern Illinois."

Tom Weisner, a Tollway director and chair of the Strategic Planning Committee: "There has been incredible growth and development in Northern Illinois since the Tollway system was built in the late 1950s. Updating the Tollway's Interchange and Roadway Cost Sharing Policy gives us an opportunity to respond to these changes and continue to provide a high level of service to the communities and people we serve as we roll out the new Move Illinois Program."

Shaking off the Blago legacy

During the governorship of Rod Blagojevich (Jan 2003 to Jan 2009) the Illinois Tollway presented itself to Chicago area motorists as a branch of the Governor's office. The positive announcements, at least, by the state Tollway were all couched in the name of the Governor.

Thus August 25 2004 the press release on the program to convert mainline toll plazas to open road tolling began:


Illinois Will be First State in Nation to Convert to Open Road Tolling to Reduce Travel Times

Reconstruction & Widening of Roads Will Add $20 Billion to the Economy and Create 252,000 Jobs

Plan Will Allow Drivers To Avoid Toll Booths Entirely; I-355 To Be Constructed
CHICAGO, Ill. - Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today unveiled his vision for the future of the Illinois Tollway with a 10-year, $5.3 billion plan that will reduce traffic and congestion, rebuild and reconstruct the entire Tollway system, add lanes to the system's major roads, make Illinois the first state in the nation to convert to Open Road Tolling, build the long-anticipated south extension of I-355 and create 252,000 jobs.

 "When the Tollway system was created, it was all about moving people to and from places faster," said Gov. Blagojevich. "Now, it's just the opposite. It slows everything down. The time has come for a major overhaul of the Tollway system. That's why we're creating a new Tollway system for the 21st century, so that commuters can get where they're going faster and easier..." (end quotes)

Only way down in the Tollway PR was the Tollway's executive director Jack Hartman referred to.

And in 2006 when open road tolling began huge signs atop the ORT gantries in the Tollway's white Italic on blue light blue read: "OPEN  ROAD TOLLING - ROD R BLAGOJEVICH, GOVERNOR". (see Chicago Tribune pic nearby)

The state Tollway became one huge billboard for the Governor's glorification and re-election.

Despite this in 2007 the Tollway announced a basic version of a cost-sharing interchange policy and under this policy four new interchanges have been built or are under way:

- on the Reagan Memorial Tollway I-88 new interchanges at Eola Road and Naperville Road

- on the Tri-State Tollway I-294 a Balmoral Avenue interchange

- on the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway I-90 currently, the IL47 Interchange

The governor who according to the Tollway's public relations gave Illinois open road tolling and these interchanges was charged in 2010 by the Feds with corruption, found guilty of 18 counts and in December 2011 was sentenced to 14 years in a US Government jail where he now resides.

None of the Feds' corruption charges related directly to the Tollway but its reputation must have suffered from the legacy of those huge white-on-blue gantry signs for the jailbird. And even if there are no federal charges it's difficult to believe the Governor wasn't in some way involved in selecting contractors and projects.

State-owned enterprises like the Illinois Tollway have a tricky path to navigate.

When they let themselves become too close to the governor of the day their decisions are seen as the result of quasi corrupt (or plain corrupt) deals with special interests, but when they go the other direction and assert their independence they are soon seen as  self-serving centers of power - as unaccountable.

Both bad.

The "Interchange and Roadway Cost Sharing Policy" seems to be a codification of a technocratic approach to decisionmaking designed heroically to shield the Tollway from the two extremes of the politics of state ownership.

copy of the policy:

TOLLROADSnews 2012-08-16

Further Reading

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