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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!

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.

Robert Jr. May 11, 2012 at 11:47 AM
Here's the real socialist plot: Chase lost $2 billion gambling and taking risks, knowing that they had the tax payer backing up their mistakes if they got to be too big. That is how they bought Bear Stearns - with Tax Payer subsidies and guarantees. But are they lending to small business? Are they reducing fees on checking accounts and savings accounts? If course not - it would "cost" them too much. So they would be ok losing $2 billion trading on products they do not understand, but would not be ok practicing banking. Hmmmmm.... makes you have to wonder, doesn't it? Call your Senator today
Robert Jr. May 11, 2012 at 11:51 AM
FDIC coverage is designed to protect bank customers against a bank failing... but when they take reckless risks like Chase did ("eggregious" is the quote from their CEO) then maybe they do not deserve tax payer insurance, and they do not deserve access to our currency from the Treasury, and maybe Ron Paul is correct that the Federal Reserve, who created the recession by raising rates - perhaps the Federal Reserve ought to be investigated - it acts more like a central gambling house, shifting money from one gambling house to another, while nobody conducts banking anymore, unless they can charge excessive fees for routine services. Their complaints about needing to raise fees on the reckless consumers and homeowners are fool's words.
Robert Jr. May 11, 2012 at 11:56 AM
If you agree with banks gambling on dirivative products and losing $2 billion, but getting tax payer bailouts anbd guarantees to grow their business, as well as historically low interest rates, then bank with them. Otherwise, if you feel tax payers should get direct access to the Federal Reserve window so we too can get funds at 0.25%, then boycott Chase and all other institutions that took TARP and abused it. Chae's $2 billion loss is not acceptable when they are taking the low interest rate funds from the Federal Reserve, and instead of lending it in the communities, they are gambling, betting, and taking big bets, using our currency. This borders on fraud as long as they use our money from the Federal Reserve (it is our money as long as the taax payer is on the hook for one penny from any bank -required bailout).
PAUL C. May 11, 2012 at 11:57 AM
Everyone is a asleep Jeff. You get what you get with the apathy that abounds not only here in Downers Grove. Less than 23% of eligible voters voted in the presidential primary in Dupage county where we were electing state and federal senate (mostly GOP) and house members got off their duffs and voted. Only 20.8% or less than 14,000 of 66,000 plus eligible voters voted in the District 81 Illinois State House race that was a very heated publicized affair. State Senators and House members have so much say on what your article addresses and most people have no clue on what is happening around them. I hear " Why vote? They all are crooks!" or "it doesn't matter if I vote!" It upsets me but as long as people can put gas in the tank, pay the mortgage, go on vacation, watch "Dancing with the Stars" etc, they are happy and just go along with the all the crap these legislators pass. The big question is what will wake people up?
Jeff Ward May 11, 2012 at 12:15 PM
Paul, Yet they regularly rail and scream at the President, despite the fact that these local bodies take far more of our tax dollars than the Fed. And 23 percent would be a high turnout for my Kane County neck of the woods. I'll say it again. This is where the Tea Party could have a massive effect, but they don't even bother. I'll keep writing. Jeff
Rudy May 11, 2012 at 12:18 PM
Paul C. We in Illinois are a horribly run Democratic state as all the Democratic states are in financial ruin California, Michigan, New York, if its a blue state I guarantee they are in financial trouble. Seems our illustrious Governor raised our state tax by 66% yeah that helped??? Just saying that voting in Democrats doesn't seem to have solved our problems only added to them. I am also not saying the GOP would do any better we just need to stop electing pretty faces and elect morally and fiscally sound individuals.
Kent Frederick May 11, 2012 at 01:46 PM
Jeff, Route 53 already connects with I-90, a bit north of Woodfield Shopping Center. I think the plan is to extend 53 north from Lake-Cook Road and connect it I-94 south of the state line, probably around Round Lake Beach.
John McCormack May 11, 2012 at 02:37 PM
I don’t understand all the inner workings of government, so can someone please explain how does the Tollway Authority get to make decisions regarding non-toll roads? Does the Tollway Authority currently have jurisdiction over Elgin-O’Hare and Route 53? As for voting, Jeff, I hear you. I for one am not “re-electing mopes who believe putting their hand in our pockets is the normal course of things”. I specifically avoid voting for career incumbents BECAUSE I’M SICK OF HAVING THEIR HANDS IN MY POCKETS. I don’t care who they are or what I think of them personally, career politicians at all levels of government are a collective cancer. Implement term limits. That will remove much of the incentive for politicians to continually have their left hand extended palm-up while their right hand rests on the Bible as they take the oath of office.
Kent Frederick May 11, 2012 at 03:29 PM
I think it would be any new portions of the Elgin-O'Hare that are built that would be under control of the Tollway Authority, along with any extension of Route 53 north of Lake-Cook Road.
Jeff Ward May 11, 2012 at 03:32 PM
Kent, You're correct! My error! Jeff
Bruno Fontana May 11, 2012 at 03:36 PM
Jeff-Your last line says it all "we'll keep electing mopes". Consider our last few Governeres, our last few Senators, State Res & Senators????...we need a State House??? That gilded palace of Springfield! Then the issue of re-vamping the IL Constitution?..needs to be done but imagine how poorly that would go? As long as Chicago's Democratic base, the Teacher's Union(sorry nothing personal), etc keep outvoting the common sense rest-of-us, were doomed. When I get the "tap on the shoulder" from my employer some day, my wife & I are out of here. Sorry to abandon ship but I dont want to die poor shoveling snow paying for pensions that bot a guys vote. PS-I heard someone once say "The Elgin Ohare Expressway doesnt go to Elgin or Ohare"...genius!
Joseph R. Martan May 11, 2012 at 03:46 PM
Yes, Rudy...except all those tax dollars collected from blue states goes to red states - we subsidize the backward homes of the righteous evangelicals and the useful idiot TEA Party types. But they are real free in lecturing us. They've gone way beyond mere hypocrisy.
Robert Jr. May 11, 2012 at 05:04 PM
The Bulls game was a great example of how the system works overall...overpaid, ineffective when it matters, unable to go on offensive and success rate (shooting percentage) suks... excessive taxes/costs for marginal value...at the end, they make out and we suffer.
Rick Nagel (Editor) May 11, 2012 at 05:23 PM
I think the Patch Analogy of the Day Award goes to "Ralph," who answers the philosophical question: "How Is last night's Bulls collapse like the proposed Illinois tollway expansion?" Well done!
Rudy May 11, 2012 at 05:52 PM
Joseph R. Martan I am not sure how other states are getting our state tax dollars? Maybe you can explain that to me?
Karen May 11, 2012 at 05:59 PM
The only reason 'patchlanders' aren't complaining is bc the Patch readership is so low. Between all the ads for pet adoption and some lengthy opinion articles and police reports- there is nothing substantive anymore.
Mouse May 11, 2012 at 08:20 PM
"So much for Newton’s theory of an equal and opposite reaction." Well, Newton is right. Nobody cares but desperate bloggers. We all know this isn't free and if we want roads we need to pay for them. How do you propose to maintain what we have without income, Jeff? As an aside, your $8/gallon gas is, well, full of gas. Pump prices are down over 13% since mid-march and will be in the mid-$3's by July. Nice Chicken Littleism though. No wonder nobody worries about what you post.
Jeff Ward May 11, 2012 at 08:29 PM
Dude! (or Dudette!) Did 'ja read the column! It's about turning freeways into tollways to fund new projects. And right there in it I said we should continue to maintain infrastructure which was the purported point of the recent toll hike. And this eminently minor gas price dip, will turn out to be the exception and not the rule. It's going up and nothing will stop it. Good luck with your wishful thinking! Jeff
Karl Brubaker May 11, 2012 at 08:30 PM
Rudy, I can't speak directly for Joseph but I think he means that Illinois sends $1 to the federal government and receive 74 cents back in services. That ranks us 45 in ROI. Alaska gets $1.84 back making them #1. http://www.taxfoundation.org/research/show/22685.html
Evelyn May 11, 2012 at 10:31 PM
Jeff: There's times I agree or disagree with you. A comment above mentions a term limits. My husband and I always discus this topic. No politician is going to vote himself out of a job. How can we vote for candidates running when they don't have a chance once they get to Washington with the others there. Attitudes are you butter my hand and I'll do yours! Thanks. Evelyn
Hercules M. May 12, 2012 at 02:35 PM
Besides the fact that this article is filled with errors (gas prices to $8, a false quote about paying to get to Woodfield when you even admitted that the extension is to I-94, etc.) the biggest problem I have with this is that you haven't given any viable solution to this so called problem? What do you suggest happen instead of these roads being toll roads? If people don't like tolls, then they don't have to take them, and it's no cost. You would rather everyone pay through taxation for these roads instead, even if they don't drive?
Florence Hoving May 12, 2012 at 03:13 PM
Get a horse!
Robert Jr. May 12, 2012 at 05:14 PM
Save a horse, ride a cowboy.
PAUL C. May 12, 2012 at 08:32 PM
I'll wager you for a Caribou Coffee that the gas prices in mid July will be well over $4.75 / gallon.
Mouse May 12, 2012 at 09:40 PM
Paul C., I'll take that bet, but you can keep the overpriced coffee.

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