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Carpool lanes approved for state tollways
By Joseph Ryan | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 11/20/2008 11:50 AM | Updated: 11/20/2008 7:38 PM

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Tollway officials are leaping forward with plans to update two major interchanges and carve out a lane across the system for carpoolers, gas sippers and big spenders.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich's tollway board approved the still vague $1.8 billion program Thursday as officials sought to ease concerns the "Green Lanes" could actually make traffic worse.

"We are going to ease our way into this process," said John Mitola, chairman of the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority board.

The tollway has yet to thoroughly study the idea of setting aside an existing lane of traffic for carpoolers, those driving high miles-per-gallon vehicles and those willing to pay significantly higher tolls.

But the effort has won praise in several other U.S. cities, including Seattle and Minneapolis.

Tollway officials hope the so-called Green Lanes will ultimately reduce traffic by spurring carpooling and encouraging the use of smaller, more efficient cars.

For now, however, the overall plan remains in an infant stage. Tollway officials aren't sure what the Green Lane toll rates will be, where the lanes will go and how the heavily regulated system could be policed.

Still, many transportation experts are on board with the project and believe it will reduce rush-hour traffic and pollution.

"The region can't keep building its way out of congestion," said Emily Tapia of the Metropolitan Planning Council in Chicago.

The Green Lanes will cost about $400 million.

Another $1 billion will go toward improving the I-290/Jane Addams Expressway interchange near Schaumburg and creating a link between the Tri-State Tollway and I-57 in the south suburbs.

Tollway officials set aside another $400 million for other interchange upgrades that have not yet been selected. Mitola said he would like to see improvements at Route 47 and I-90 near Huntley and at Route 47 and the Reagan Tollway near Sugar Grove,

All of the improvements are years off.

Crews will begin constructing a pilot Green Lane on one undetermined section of the tollway in 2010.

Tollway officials have said additional lanes may then be set aside on up to 80 miles of high-traffic stretches across the Chicago area.

To use the special lane, cars with only a driver have been charged up to nearly $10 to breeze by congestion in other cities under a similar program.

Drivers in hybrids or other cars with high mpg ratings will pay more than the normal rate, but less than regular vehicles with one occupant, Illinois officials say.

Carpoolers will pay the normal toll rate under the current plan.

The Green Lanes come on the heels of an aggressive five-year, multibillion dollar project to add a new lane of highway across the system and build a 12-mile southern extension on the Veterans Tollway, I-355. That expansion project was paid for by doubling tolls on cash payers.

The new $1.8 billion in spending will be covered, in part, by charging higher tolls on Green Lanes. Plus, trucks will be charged higher rates starting in 2015, ranging from $2.10 to $5.60.

Work to improve the I-290/I-90 interchange will begin in 2013 or 2014. No design plans have been presented.

Work to construct a Tri-State interchange at I-57 will begin in 2011.

All projects are set to be complete by the end of 2015.