Getting Around: How much are you willing to pay to avoid traffic?

Congestion-priced express lanes on I-90 would shave 11 minutes from the current travel between Elgin and I-294 during the morning's peak traffic period, according to the CMAP computer modeling. It would cost drivers 11 cents per mile, up from 6 cents per mile today, or $2.53 instead of $1.30. In addition, congestion would decline a projected 7 percent on parallel arterial roads.

About half of respondents (51 percent) said they favor exploring options for express toll lanes that would cost drivers more, while 23 percent were opposed, according to a recent tollway-sponsored survey.

After years of studying congestion pricing, including a 2010 analysis by the tollway and the Metropolitan Planning Council that focused on achieving 45 mph flows on portions of the Addams, Stevenson and the reversible lanes of the Kennedy Expressway, CMAP officials are pressing for a consensus and quick action on their 55-mph-flow express lane plan.

"Congestion pricing is not something we are pie-in-the-skying for 20 years from now," Blankenhorn said.

"If we just build another lane and do nothing else, it's not going to be too long until it's full," he said. "The toll authority is finding that out on I-88 (Reagan Memorial Tollway) and the Tri-State Tollway (I-294) with the lanes they just added. We need to start managing the traffic or congestion is not going to get better."

Drivers using congestion-priced express lanes during the morning peak would have their trips shortened by 31 percent to 66 percent compared with current travel times, the CMAP analysis showed.

In addition, faster, more reliable travel times would spill over to the free lanes on expressways, benefiting drivers paying no extra fee, because of the capacity gained from the newly built express lanes, according to computer modeling and analysis by CMAP.

Congestion-related delays on the free lanes would decline 24 percent to 33 percent, depending on the road, according to the CMAP modeling.

Arterial streets that are adjacent to the highways also would presumably see 6 percent to 10 percent fewer congestion delays because the added lane capacity and improved flow on the highways would minimize the use of the arterials as an alternate route, officials said.

Transportation experts said the findings should allay concerns among suburban mayors who fear congestion pricing will send additional traffic streaming onto their streets.

"I think the political understanding and the political will are there from some mayors. It will now have to trickle down to the populace," said Peter Skosey, vice president of the Metropolitan Planning Council.

The state's top transportation official said she thinks the congestion-weary public wants change and may be ready to help pay for it. She also said she's optimistic that recent synergy between the Illinois Tollway, the Illinois Department of Transportation and CMAP to manage toll facilities will produce results.

"We are moving forward studying Eisenhower and Stevenson widening projects, and I think there is enough energy between the agencies to try and make the system work better," said Illinois Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider. "That is further than we have been in the past."

Contact Getting Around at jhilkevitch@tribune.com or c/o the Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611; on Twitter @jhilkevitch; and at facebook.com/jhilkevitch. Read recent columns at chicagotribune.com/gettingaround.

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