Trucking group wants Illinois Tollway hikes rescinded

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The Mid-West Truckers Association has asked the Illinois Tollway board of directors to rescind its recently enacted toll hikes for truckers as a result of a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court against Gov. Rod Blagojevich involving an alleged scheme to quickly enact the plan in exchange for campaign contributions.

The Tollway board on Nov. 20 approved a plan to raise tolls on trucks by 60 percent. The toll increase will be phased in over 2015-2017; beginning in 2018, tolls for trucks will be tied to the Consumer Price Index. Other components to the Tollway’s plan include a new I-294/I-57 interchange and upgrading the I-290/State Route 53 interchange.

Blagojevich was arrested Tuesday, Dec. 9, on federal conspiracy charges, including allegations related to filling the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama. In the complaint against Blagojevich, federal prosecutors said he conspired to pressure possible candidates for campaign contributions and other benefits.

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald on Tuesday, Dec. 9, said that according to testimony from a fund-raising associate, Blagojevich also allegedly attempted to solicit campaign contributions from a highway contractor in exchange for work on an $1.8 billion road project. The governor was willing to commit even more money to the project, but wanted to see how much money the contractor could raise from donors first, Fitzgerald said. Engineering consultants doing hundreds of millions of dollars of work on the Illinois Tollway have been donors to Blagojevich.

In a letter to the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority dated Tuesday, Dec. 9, MTA Executive Vice President Donald Schaefer wrote that the program to raise tolls for truckers “was announced to the public with a series of hearings that gave few the chance to study or adequately debate the construction plan.”

The approval for the toll increase for trucks came four years after the Tollway increased truck tolls by as much as 300 percent, according to MTA. Meanwhile, an increase for tolls on automobiles was not proposed by the Tollway. The last time the Tollway increased tolls on cars was in 1983, MTA says.

MTA opposed the Tollway’s plan to place a toll increase entirely on the trucking industry and then raise truck tolls every year at the rate of CPI. “It is obvious that the ulterior motive was to enact such a program quickly,” Schaefer wrote. “The plan … was poorly thought out and faulty from both an economic and an engineering standpoint.”

The Tollway also plans to convert existing highway lanes into “Green” lanes that would be accessible to carpoolers and “environmentally friendly vehicles.” However, the Tollway does not know yet how this plan would work or how much they will charge for use of the “Green” lanes, MTA says.

“It is also apparent from my discussions with intelligent transportation leaders from around the world at the ITS World Congress in New York City in November that the technology touted by the Tollway and the governor does not exist in a practical situation,” Schaefer wrote. “When an agency of the state takes action based on political motives and not for economic or safety reasons, it is obvious that now is the time to rethink the board’s action.”

Illinois Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn on Tuesday, Dec. 9, called on Blagojevich to resign. Obama also has called for Blagojevich’s resignation.

MTA has about 2,700 member companies.