Peter Samuel, an economist and publisher of the monthly Toll Roads Newsletter, says that getting rid of tolls, by itself, would make conditions worse for motorists, not better.
In October, Illinois Gov. George Ryan ordered the five-member Illinois State Toll Highway Authority to make recommendations for making the tollway system more efficient. He has said his long-term goal is to reduce or phase out tolls entirely.
In a study released by The Heartland Institute, an independent nonprofit public policy research group headquartered in Chicago, Samuel recommends several reforms: fast-track the I-PASS electronic tolling system; implement peak-time pricing; end double taxation by giving rebates on toll bills for gasoline taxes; and privatize the tollways.
Samuel notes that privately owned and operated tollways already exist in Virginia, California and Alabama, and are under construction in Utah, Florida and Texas.
In northern Illinois, the tollways represent about a third of the expressway lane-mileage, with four major toll roads, the majority built in the 1950s.
The current chairman of the Illinois Toll Authority, when he was appointed in July, said tolls would have to be increased to maintain, modernize and expand the roads. The last systemwide toll increases were in 1983.