Green lanes got a green light during a Thursday hearing sponsored by the state tollway into a plan to introduce carpooling and improve interchanges.
About 45 people dropped by the meeting in Hoffman Estates - most with positive comments, although a few attendees questioned increases in tolls for trucks and an expense-sharing proposal for interchanges. This was the first of 12 forums the agency will hold across the state.
The Illinois State Toll Highway Authority unveiled a $1.8 billion construction program in October that includes creating "green lanes" on highly used tollway segments, which vehicles with two or more occupants could use at no extra cost starting in 2010. Officials promise it will reduce congestion and air pollution and create jobs, but some have argued that after the agency spent years and billions on widening I-355, the Jane Addams, I-88 and the Tri-State tollways, it's unfair to take away a lane for carpoolers.
Cars with just one person inside could hop on the green lanes but would pay from two times to up to 10 times the price of regular tolls, depending on traffic volume. Energy-efficient cars, such as the Prius, with single occupants could also use the carpool lanes at a slightly higher toll rate.
Pace Executive Director T.J. Ross said his agency looked forward to putting buses on the green lanes.
"This is absolutely essential to provide successful transit services," he said.
Officials with the Regional Transportation Authority, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, Metropolitan Planning Council and corporations including Allstate Insurance Co. and Enterprise Rent-A-Car also endorsed the proposal.
The tollway intends to construct an interchange at I-57 and the Tri-State for $500 million and rebuild the problematic interchange at the Jane Addams and I-290/Route 53 for $500 million. Another $400 million in interchange improvements is waiting for matching funds from communities that want to participate.
Mike Lee, a transportation engineer from Hoffman Estates, said he drives on the Jane Addams/I-290 interchange every day and worries about safety in merging traffic. "This has been long overdue," he said.
Schaumburg Transportation Director June Johnson said her village was interested in partnering with the tollway to construct a Meacham Road interchange.
But Bolingbrook Mayor Roger Claar, who praised the overall initiative, noted "requiring a 50 percent cost-share is a tremendous financial burden and should be thought out carefully."
To help pay for the construction, the authority would issue bonds and raise tolls for trucks in 2015. Current toll plaza rates ranging from $1.50 to $4 would increase to between $2.40 and $6.40, based on truck size.
Michael Scholefield, chairman of the Chicago Southland Economic Development Corp., advised the agency to consider revising tolls for everyone.
"Avoid the temptation to single out a particular industry," he said.