Is Chicago Ready for Congestion Pricing?

Proponents say fees would be minimal

How much would you pay to fly down the Tollway?

A new study from the Metropolitan Planning Council and the Illinois Tollway says the time is ripe for congestion pricing in Chicagoland.

"If you think traffic is bad now, it's going to double in the next 20 years," said the MPC's Emily Tapia Lopez, explaining that the average Chicago-area driver spends two-and-a-half days sitting behind the wheel.

To ease that pain, the council is pushing a concept whereby drivers would pay an extra fee to use high-speed or premium lanes on area tollways and highways during peak usage times.  By 2020, the Kennedy and Stevenson expressways and the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway could get a carefully-managed lane that's always moving at the speed limit.

Imagine if the reversible express lanes on the Kennedy Expressway were fee based.

Proponents of the idea say by imposing a supply and demand concept on road travel, motorists will become savvier about their commutes. Congestion pricing would encourage car-pooling, and make drivers consider traveling at less congested times.

"Whether you're going to a meeting and you're running late, whether you have to catch a flight, whether you're picking up your children at daycare, this gives you another choice," said Lopez.

The fees collected would help fund city coffers for road improvements.

Based on other cities that have similar programs – like Minneapolis and Orange County Calif. – the fee would be minimal, around $2.25 for a one way ride and it would guarantee a traffic-jam free commute.

In a Chicago model, drivers on Interstate 55 could save 17 minutes from Midway airport to downtown by paying $1.75 to drive in a priced lane.

Detractors say the congestion pricing gives an unfair advantage to wealthy drivers who can afford the extra fee.

In fact, in San Diego, where priced lanes already exist, they've been nick-named the "Lexus Lanes."

"Sometimes maybe more wealthier people may take these lanes more easily than people who don't have the money," said Chicago's Hansen Bow.

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