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Stott: Initial investment is troll in tollway


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The Illinois Tollway has announced an ambitious plan to increase tolls to fund the repair and expansion of highways, including an overhaul of the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway between Chicago and Rockford.

The tollway plans to hold public hearings – including one from 7-9 p.m. Aug. 19 at the Convocation Center in DeKalb – and vote on the rate changes, which officials hope will take effect in January, according to The Associated Press.

The culmination of these goals is unlikely. Since its inception in the 1950s, the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority has been struggling to keep up with its own ideals.

The amount of money required to maintain hundreds of miles of asphalt and concrete has been consistently underestimated. More money will always be needed because repairs will never cease.

Some tweaks to the I-Pass system, however, may help the tollway reach a more attainable goal: Selling every Illinois driver an I-Pass account. According to the Illinois Tollway, 82 percent of Illinois tolls are paid electronically.

In an attempt to not only create a more streamlined way of taxing tollway users but to also generate a more consistent revenue, the Illinois Tollway introduced I-Pass in 1993.

Users pay $10 for the use of the transponder and a $40 credit toward toll payments.

For regular tollway users, it is much more convenient than the old system of slowing down to deposit cash at tollbooths.

Unfortunately, the tollway will have a hard time reaching all users with the convenience of I-Pass if it continues to maintain a required down payment of $50 to initiate an account.

By doubling the tolls for non-I-Pass users, the tollway sent a not-so-subtle message that anyone without a small white box on their dash was impeding its momentum.

It is hard for many people, though, to justify the fees and required pre-payment to initiate an account.

Many Illinoisans, including but definitely not limited to college students, simply don’t have an extra $50 to deposit into an account, especially if they cannot predict when they will see a return – reduced toll payments – on their investment.

In order to have a realistic chance at putting an I-Pass in all cars with Illinois plates, the tollway needs to stop alienating potential users who can’t pony up the initial $50.

By increasing the amount required for cash-using toll payers, the tollway makes the I-Pass a better deal for regular tollway users and a smart investment for the long term.

Unfortunately, not everyone has the financial means to afford the investment. This is especially true for occasional users who could spend that $50 on other essentials before depleting their I-Pass accounts.

The benefits of the I-Pass are clear. Why else would so many Illinois drivers buy in?

But if the tollway wishes to saturate the market, it will need to find a way to cater to users who can’t part with $50 for a small white box.

• Lauren Stott is a Maple Park native studying journalism and political science at Northern Illinois University. She can be reached at lauren_stott@yahoo.com.

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