20 Aug 2014
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Jeff Ward: For Whom the Toll Bells

Now they're going to turn freeways into tollways! It's a socialist plot!

Jeff Ward: For Whom the Toll Bells Jeff Ward: For Whom the Toll Bells

When former Metra Executive Director Phil Pagano absconded with half-a-million dollars and jumped in front of one of his own trains when he was cornered, I thought Patchland would sit up and take notice.

When Metra was caught robbing its capital fund to pay operating expenses, an unsustainable practice that led to a 25 percent rate hike, I thought local folks would start scouring their garages for their torches and pitchforks.

When, despite a lengthy history of financial shenanigans, the Illinois Tollway Authority doubled tolls, I thought my column on that topic would incite my Tea Party brethren and sistren into storming that Springfield castle.

So, as you might imagine, I’ve been a wee bit disappointed that the best you all could muster was some minor grumbling. So much for Newton’s theory of an equal and opposite reaction.

And it’s exactly because the general public couldn’t manage to pull themselves away from The Jersey Shore long enough to take notice that they’re at it again. This time, those illustrious tollway folks are planning on converting freeways to tollways so you can pay for the construction new roads for which they then will charge you more tolls to use.

Of course, their theory is this “user fee” method is far better than taking it from our tax dollars, but that’s nothing more than a smoke screen. The fact of the matter is, since the state can’t come up with any more cash, the tollway is attempting to tax us directly.

Call me crazy—and many of you already do—but I thought the reason they DOUBLED tolls was to fund all those projects that couldn’t previously be paid for.

And all they have to do to make this scenario a reality is plan some improvements to the newly tolled roads and get IDOT to go along with it—that’s it! No Illinois elected official consent required.

You see, once they got away with a 100 percent toll hike, they figured they may as well go ahead and test what the market will bear. What makes this prospect so much worse is, at a time when pump prices are breaking records, the two proposed projects couldn’t be more patently absurd.

The first boondoggle is to extend the Elgin-O’Hare Expressway all the way to O’Hare Airport and the folks who regularly travel that parking lot will have to pay 20 cents a mile, or 335 percent more than the regular toll rate, for the privilege of financing the project.

The second really bad idea is one that’s been bandied about long before Democrats ruled the statehouse—the extension of Route 53 north to I-90. If they can get the suburban mayors to go along with that one, then those folks who travel that route will be also paying 20 cents a mile.

Please tell me none of you are foolish enough to believe that these new tolls will ever be reduced or, God forbid, eliminated, even when the work is done, because that would entail a complete redefinition of the word “gullible.”

Even if the tollway folks' intentions were a mere millimeter above board, the Elgin-O’Hare Expressway was obsolete the day they cut the ribbon. I gave it a shot the first season it opened and, after just two months of standing-room-only traffic, I went right back to Irving Park Road.

And we all know the Route 53 extension is a bad idea if for no other reason than forced-to-resign Metra Board member and Arlington Heights Mayor Arlene Mulder thinks it’s a good one. As Rolling Meadows Mayor Tom Rooney so eloquently put it, “Paying a quarter to get to Woodfield (Mall) is ridiculous.”

For the first time in my life, I’m avoiding tollways. Can you imagine what will happen when commuters are faced with a 335 percent increase? The adjoining surface roads will be flooded.

And why are we considering anachronistic road projects when, within five short years, gas prices will be testing the $8 mark? The only reason Patchlanders aren’t complaining about Metra is it’s still a better option than having to pop by BP on a weekly basis.

For God sakes! No one within the sound of my voice should be encouraging anyone to drive even one more mile. Go ahead and maintain the current roadways, but let’s put every last tax dollar toward high-speed rail and other more-viable public transportation options. Let’s put it toward renewable energy sources that won’t pollute and prop up regimes who aren’t particularly fond of us.

But alas, I’m sure this, my fourth column on this transportation topic, will turn out to be yet another case of Jeff Ward spitting into the wind. You’ll just keep on re-electing mopes who believe putting their hand in our pockets is the normal course of things.

Perhaps if I called it a socialist plot you’d actually pay attention.

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