Tollways the driving force behind jobs, growth

By Robert McCoppin Daily Herald Staff Writer


Most of the Illinois tollway system was built all at once — but it’s been paid for over the years, one fistful of coins at a time.
The Tri-State, Northwest, and East-West tollways all opened in 1958 — an astounding construction feat.
"It’d be hard to pull off something like that today," tollway spokesman David Loveday conceded.
The tolls paid on those roads helped pave the way for the opening of the North-South Tollway in 1989, and for its controversial planned extension north through Lake County to the Tri-State and south through Will County to I-57.
The tollways literally paved the way for the suburbs to become what they are today: Home not only to millions of homeowners, but also to corporate headquarters and industry.
Business developers like Bill Gahlberg, of William Gahlberg and Associates in Oak Brook, followed the roads to bring downtown clients to the suburbs.
"There is no contest between the chicken and the egg in this deal," Gahlberg said. "If you want development, you have to provide easy access for autos and trucks."
Communities such as Schaumburg, Naperville and Gurnee exploded with growth along the expressways.
With opening of the North-South Tollway, Bolingbrook, once principally a bedroom community, became a mecca for jobs. The village has 10 times as many jobs today — 11,000 — as that of a decade ago.
Without the roads, development would still occur and might be more orderly, Gahlberg said, but would be greatly retarded.
Running this road show is the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority, which handles a million customers a day, and is expected to take in $300 million this year.
Stretching from Indiana to Wisconsin, and west to Rockford and Dixon, it has bulked up to 275 miles of road.
Originally constructed for interstate travel, the roads became daily routes for suburbanites commuting to work in the city.
In recent years, proposed tollways have met fierce opposition from residents who would have lived near them.
The planned Fox Valley Highway was dropped by Gov. Jim Edgar several years ago after vigorous opposition by some residents; both north and south extensions of the North-South Tollway are being challenged.
After years of complaints from those who had one disagreement or another with the tollway, officials say they’re getting more responsive. With the construction of I-355, for instance, the tollways included sound barriers, and now they’re reconsidering putting barriers in older areas.
Critics say the tollways themselves are the problem. They double-tax drivers, create congestion, and cause the suburbs to sprawl into farmland, while parts of the city are abandoned.
How much of that is true is the subject of a lawsuit and a study the tollway has commissioned.
The future of the tollways could hang in the balance. A judge has given toll officials until Dec. 15 to come up with a plan for broader state control of its budget.
Yet the expansion of the tollways has not kept pace with the explosion of traffic they carry.
The number of automobiles per day on the system has grown from 90,000 when the toll roads opened, to more than one million vehicles a day.

Copyright 1997 Paddock Publications, Inc.