What Norway Can Teach Illinois About Toll Roads

When I was in Norway at the tiny (and picturesque) town of Mundal, I noted what appeared to be an abandoned highway toll booth near the edge of town. Since the meticulous Norwegians would never leave behind something like this without good reason, I started looking more closely at this find.

Surely enough, the meticulous Norwegians had a sign on the booth (in English, no less) describing why this toll booth was historic in their eyes.

Per the sign:

This toll station was situated on rv5 (close to Nork Bremuseum) from November 1994 to November 2010. The toll financed the road between Fjaerland and Sogndal. For most of the period, this was the road with the highest toll in Norway. The Norwegian Booktown and Fjaerland’s Historical Society will use the house to document the history of Fjaerland’s struggle for road-connection with the outside world. Until 1986 you could only travel to Fjaerland by boat / ferry.

As they noted on the sign the toll was very expensive. From what I have been able to find the toll cost 180 kroner each way (approximately $20 USD) but cut a substantial amount of time out of the drive to Mundal. However, once the road was paid for, the Norwegians dismantled this toll booth and stopped charging drivers, which is why they now have plans to use it as part of the historical site.

On the other hand, you have the State of Illinois, whose toll authority plans to dramatically increase tolls starting January 1, 2012. Per this article – Illinois toll road increase:

The cost of a trip on the Tollway system for the average I-Pass driver would increase to $1.18, up from today’s average of 63 cents per trip

Note that for non-iPass (electronic tolling) drivers, the increase is effectively doubled; welcome to Illinois, tourists or those too poor or disorganized to afford an iPass (you need to replenish by credit card). This is one of the most regressive of all taxes.

The key concept of the Norwegian toll road system was:
– build something that hadn’t existed previously that was worthwhile
– when it was paid off, dismantle the toll booth and eliminate the tolls

This concept doesn’t apply in Illinois, where drivers have paid off the previous toll roads long ago but they not only continue to collect tolls, they INCREASE the tolls ON THOSE SAME ROADS to finance their continued existence as an organization.

“We are confident that the vast majority of customers and communities we serve stand behind us in support of this 15-year investment in the Illinois Tollway’s future,” said Illinois Tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur in a news release. “Now is the time to move forward with these critical infrastructure improvements to provide congestion relief on the Tollway and coordination with the other transportation and transit agencies to do something new and innovative with an eye to the region’s future transportation needs.”

Really? Was there a referendum, or chance for toll payers to vote on these changes? Of course not – there were some public meetings, but no formal mechanism that allowed toll users to express their displeasure with this toll increase.

As far as “new and innovative” items, there is nothing here that qualifies in that realm. The tollway doesn’t even reach into Chicago, so none of the problems of desperate traffic conditions within the city would be addressed by this $12.1 capital program. Here are the “innovative” (their words) items:

Projects slated for completion under the capital plan include:

Reconstructing and widening the 52-year-old Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90) from the Tri-State Tollway (I-294) to Rockford
Reconstructing more than 20 miles of the central Tri-State Tollway (I-294) and the Edens Spur (I-94)
Preserving the Reagan Memorial Tollway (I-88)
Preserving the Veterans Memorial Tollway (I-355)
Repairing roads, bridges and maintenance facilities
Other capital projects, including local interchanges

Thus basically you are paying AGAIN to keep these highways running in Illinois, that you already paid for, plus a big taxpayer funded bureaucracy to boot. Once a tollway, always a tollway, and now we need to pay a bunch of politically connected contractors to rebuild it AGAIN.

Here are the signs behind the Norway booth. Wouldn’t it be great if instead of being Norwegian destinations, they were names we’d recognize in Illinois? But it isn’t going to happen – not only will they never take them down, they will RAISE the tolls to make you pay for it AGAIN (and give themselves a raise, for certain, to boot).

Cross posted at LITGM

11 thoughts on “What Norway Can Teach Illinois About Toll Roads”

  1. One thing the Norwegians are probably not cursed with is the poor legislation that the US has regarding road quality. We *must* pay the lowest bidder and damn the quality. Quality guarantees are simply not permitted because over a century ago they were used as a sort of a scam (high bidder provides worthless guarantees and then declares bankruptcy and runs). This makes our road construction patterns different and I strongly suspect expensive.

  2. The Golden Gate Bridge was supposed to be free once the tolls had paid off the bridge.

    Guess the Norwegians aren’t running things there.

  3. Look for an increase in the number of tolls. With increasing fuel efficiency and the advent of hybrid-electric and electric cars, road construction and maintenance will be increasingly difficult to finance with gasoline taxes which are regressive in nature as well. I have no problem with tolls. You use the tollway, you pay for it. Don’t like paying tolls, don’t drive on it.

  4. There is a bridge over part of Los Angeles harbor that used to be a toll bridge but, once the Vincent Thomas Bridge was paid for, the tolls ended. I believe a Republican was governor at the time.

    When I was a boy, the Illinois Toll Road was being built. My father pointed out to me that the right-of-way wandered all over north-east Illinois because it had to pass through every parcel of farmland owned by politicians. Prior to its construction there was a state highway, #84, that constituted the same beltway around the city but its path was much less convoluted. I believe one of those parcels was owned by Denny Hastert so the “Combine” was always bipartisan. Illinois never changes. My father was a rabid Democrat but he knew corruption when he saw it.

  5. ITA previously scammed out of staters by deliberately insisting that drivers who missed tolls had to identify the LOCATION of the toll plaza and not just pay the amount of the missed tolls or pre-pay with a set amount before buying an IPASS.

    Now they’ve at least corrected this where you don’t have to tell them exactly where you missed a toll before they slap you with a $20 per missed toll fine. Their legal counsel, who claims to work for the Illinois Attorney General’s office (he doesn’t) is a joke (I won’t say his name here, but the first name is Russian-sounding). After boasting about how a private class action suit got tossed out in a Chicago court a few years ago (yeah, sure) he made repeated misleading statements about other tollway authorities in other states when confronted on why Illinois can’t just mail a bill like Kansas or Texas turnpike authorities without piling on with massive fines. I also asked him about how much the ‘Governor Rod Blagojevich signs’ cost to remove and if that came out of general state highway or tollway revenues. I told him that people like him are the laughingstocks of the rest of the country and the reason businesses are fleeing Illinois. He finally sputtered “I don’t like corruption” and sent out a weasely denial saying my recollection of our conversation was inaccurate. Of course, when I asked him if I could record our conversations for quality control purposes he said he’d hang up. I then replied how can any ITA customer prove that they were given incompetent or misleading instructions from an ITA employee? Silence.

    Ultimately if they didn’t clean up the ‘name that toll plaza’ scam they were going to get sued by other states’ attorney generals in federal court. I know for a fact the Minnesota AG’s office was considering a suit. I’m still not sure though if you are without an IPASS if you’re not screwed. I ended up buying an IPASS but I ALWAYS write down the plaza if at all possible when driving through I-88 if I must, just in case the crooks come after me months later with some ridiculous fine for the IPASS failing to work properly. Fortunately I live in the city so I don’t have to go on I-88 very often.

    Instructions for all ITA victims here


  6. “ITA previously scammed out of staters by deliberately insisting that drivers who missed tolls had to identify the LOCATION of the toll plaza and not just pay the amount of the missed tolls or pre-pay with a set amount before buying an IPASS.” You can imagine the difficulty/safety of doing this at night going sixty miles per hour, besides the safety hazard of trying to stop with dozens of cars backed up, honking behind you at a toll plaza to scrounge for change or swerve to avoid the IPASS lane.

    One would have to pull over and write down the name of every toll plaza which isn’t always clearly visible. And poor folks without Internet access don’t have a clue, which is why the author of this post made an excellent post pointing to the fact that ITA is grossly regressive and preys upon the ignorant who aren’t wise to the scamming.

    Once again, I’m not sure when they dropped the ‘name that toll plaza’ requirement, but I suspect it happened between 2009 and late 2010.

    Here’s the addresses for those Googling Illinois Tollway AND ripoff:

    Lisa Madigan
    Office of Illinois Attorney General
    Consumer Protection Bureau
    500 South Second Street
    Springfield, IL 62706

    and carbon copy (CC at the bottom of the letter) to the Federal Trade Commission:

    Federal Trade Commission
    600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
    Washington, DC 20580


    Hold em’ accountable.

  7. A couple of years ago I missed a toll in the Chicago area in a rented car. I followed the instructions on a state website for what to do. They did ask which toll plaza I had missed. I guessed, and I’m not sure I gave them the correct answer. I had to send in less than a couple of bucks.

  8. The eighteen mile Denver-Boulder Turnpike was finished in 1952 and paid for with 30-year municipal revenue bonds, the revenue coming from 25 cent tolls. The bonds were paid off in half the time and the road became toll-free in 1967.

    $0.25 wasn’t all that cheap in 1952; the BLS inflation calculator shows that it was worth $2.13 in today’s dollars.

  9. Note that for non-iPass (electronic tolling) drivers, the increase is effectively doubled; welcome to Illinois, tourists or those too poor or disorganized to afford an iPass …

    Thankfully, it is not that difficult to avoid the toll roads – at least if one is merely passing through on the way to or from Wisconsin.

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