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Tollway work in final throes and budget shows the difference
By Marni Pyke | Daily Herald Staff

The end is near for the Illinois tollway's gargantuan Congestion Relief Program.


Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

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Published: 10/30/2009 12:01 AM

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The end is near for the Illinois tollway's gargantuan Congestion Relief Program and its 2010 budget proposal reflects that development.

The Illinois State Toll Highway Authority's $696 million operating budget, released Thursday for public comment, shows a 2.3 percent increase from 2009. The capital budget projects a significant drop from $1 billion to $341 million in 2010, a function of the agency wrapping up the construction project.

"This marks the end of the major work on reconstruction and widening," Engineering Chief Paul Kovacs said. More than 80 percent of the road work that's peeved drivers since 2004 should finish by the end of the year.

The tollway board is expected to vote on the budget in December.

New lanes on the Tri-State, I-355, I-88 and I-90 tollways should mean more drivers paying tolls, Finance Chief Michael Colsch said. He predicts revenues from tolls and fines will be $680 million in 2010, compared to estimates of $629 million in 2009.

The original 2009 budget anticipated about $650 million from tolls but the weak economy and unemployment deflated those projections.

The tollway's maintenance and operations budget, 41 percent of which is salaries, is $265 million - a 3 percent increase from 2009. The authority is holding back on hiring and expects to have 1,704 employees in 2010 compared to 1,783 in 2009.

But the addition of 276 more lane miles of tollway means increases in expenditures such as road salt. Finance officials also said the extra capacity means they won't make cuts in the District 15 State Police budget, which shows an 8.6 percent increase.

Congestion Relief Program costs will be $6.1 billion, a reduction from the recent estimates of $6.3 billion, Acting Director Michael King said. "It will be done on schedule," he said.

"I was talking to a mayor and he said no one believed it could be done in the time allocated," tollway Chairman Paula Wolff said.

Construction improvements slated for 2010 in the budget include resurfacing and rehabbing the Edens Expressway Spur, resurfacing on I-355 from I-88 to Army Trail Road and resurfacing the I-90-Kennedy Expressway from the Tri-State to the Elgin Toll Plaza.

Tollway board directors also approved borrowing up to $300 million to pay for the final phase of reconstruction and widening. In a related matter, Director Bill Morris, former mayor of Waukegan, voted against adopting a contract with a pool of investment bankers to handle bond sales.

Morris said the companies selected were competent but he objected to the process because it had left out several qualified firms including those owned by minorities and women.

"The system is flawed," he said. Morris also said he personally objected to including Goldman Sachs in the pool because of controversy over the firm taking federal bailout money and then planning to give out executive bonuses.