Ask The Best And Brightest: Would You Pay Extra To Drive In The Fast Lane?

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer
ask the best and brightest would you pay extra to drive in the fast lane

With Chicago-area residents spending an average of 60 hours per year in traffic, and the city losing over $7b in lost productivity, wasted gas and environmental damage, Chicago is considering a version of congestion pricing that would charge drivers extra to use the left lane. According to, Chicago’s Metropolitan Planning Council studied

the Stevenson Expressway (Interstate 55) from I-355 to downtown Chicago; the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90) from I-290/Illinois Highway 53 to Elgin; and the reversible lanes on the Kennedy Expressway (I-90/94)

and recommended a fast lane toll to encourage responsible use of the freeways. The study suggested a $2.19 roll for inbound trips, but suggested that a variable toll based on time, trip, and traffic conditions could be imposed. The MPC figures $23m per year could be raised from such a toll on the Kennedy’s reversible lanes alone, and that money is needed for future road construction. But would you be willing to pay a little extra to be guaranteed a fast-moving left lane? Or is this just a revenue-raising “Lexus lane” that will benefit the rich and the city government and few others?

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  • Sundowner Sundowner on Jul 14, 2010

    The above statement isn't completely in-tune with the current technology. The E-ZPass transponders are accurate enough to read which lane you're in when you're driving. Someone mentioned above that the antenna readers (they look like pizza boxes) were put over the free lanes as well as the toll lanes. This is typically done so the system software can get two readingd from your transponder as you drive under the antennas. the signal strength between the two antennas is compared and the software can figure out whether you're in a toll lane or a free lane from that data. Pretty standard stuff these days. I've always liked the idea of elective toll lanes. They are truly democracy in action; it's a tax you can vote for with your wallet by using or not using it. Don't want to pay for a better road system? then don't use the better road system, use the one you already have. want to pay extra for a premium service? then take the toll lane. Paying a premium for an expedited government service is nothing new. You can pay extra to have your passport renewed, and toll roads/bridges - which are the exact same thing - have been around since Ben Franklin. Here's something else to consider: when you have a major road that is ALL tollled, you need human toll collectors to make change for the people who don't have transponders. When you have a major road that goes either way, you don't need toll collectors becuase if you don't have a transponder, you just get shunted to the slow lanes. Employing toll collectors and operating toll plazas can consume 60% or more of the road's toll revenue stream. You're paying toll collectors to take money from you. Get rid of the toll collectors and the tolls can be otherwise reduced and the tolling agency extracts the same revenue for maintaining and ubgrading the roadway.

    • See 1 previous
    • NulloModo NulloModo on Jul 14, 2010

      Sundowner - Thanks for the info, I didn't even think about putting the sensors above all of the lanes, that makes sense. As far as tollbooth operators, there are plenty of minor tolls throughout the country where you have to throw change into a little funnel, why not use those and vending machine style bill slots instead of toll collectors? You could have some cameras to catch people vandalizing the machines, and employ a couple techs to cover the road network and keep everything humming along for a lot less than paying six to ten people per toll junction to stand in booths and collect money all day.

  • R H R H on Jul 14, 2010

    I know that if you come up from downtown to the north you already have a free alternative which is (almost?) as fast as 94 -- Route 41 which you can take from the near north suburbs all the way up into wisconsin. It runs parallel to 94/294. Right now the spur is under construction so you have a ~35K? 55k? cars/day are following 94 into the merge with 294 (294 ends) with 1 lane. Seriously. That stretch should take no longer than 3-4 minutes and I know that at 3:30pm or so it can now be 10-15 minutes. I don't travel during rush hour so I can't tell you the time it would take then.... IMHO, travelling during non-rush if they made the left lane free (say up until 5:30am or something) I'd be all for it as it really doesn't affect me. I'd be willing to pay on the way home if 41 was blocked up (not uncommon for parts of 41 to flood during heavy rain) and 94 was under construction. Otherwise I would just take the free route (41) or the normal toll route for $0.50/$1 (94).

  • Geotpf Geotpf on Jul 14, 2010

    This is a horrible idea. The 91 Freeway in Orange County to the Riverside County border (in Southern California) has this. There are four free lanes and two paid lanes (3+ carpools are free or lower priced depending on the time of the day). To use the paid lanes, you must have a transponder (no tollbooth), including free carpools. So what happens is the toll lanes move freely and the free lanes are a complete parking lot. But, once you hit the Riverside County line, the two paid lanes turn into one carpool lane and one free lane-and the back up goes completely away. Had the two paid lanes been free lanes, all six lanes of traffic would be freeflowing. The increase in pollution alone (in an area that can't afford such) is enough that this is a horrible idea.

  • VanillaDude VanillaDude on Jul 14, 2010

    Yes, I would pay more to drive in express lanes in Chicago. It would save two hours of my life every working day. Instead of watching my life slowly end behind the wheel of a Saturn, I could be home or at work - you know - be productive! This thing works. DO IT!