On January 1, 2012, drivers using the Illinois Tollway system began digging a little deeper into their pockets to pay for the use of the highways. The toll rate increase was approved by the Illinois State Toll Highway Board in conjunction with its $12 billion Move Illinois construction plan.

The capital improvement plan involves renovating existing highways, and expanding travel corridors.

Spanning 15 years, Move Illinois aims to “provide customers with a fully rebuilt, state-of-the-art system and critical new regional projects that will improve mobility, relieve congestion, reduce pollution and link economies across the Midwest,” according to the Capital Plan Overview. Job creation – to the tune of 120,000 jobs – is an ancillary benefit of the plan.

Move Illinois is being financed by bonds backed by the toll increase for passenger vehicles, and a scheduled increase on commercial toll rates in 2015.

While many drivers may balk at the increase, by early measures, the drop in car transactions thus far is actually less than the Tollway’s Traffic Engineer had projected, according to Wendy Abrams, Chief of Communications at the Illinois Tollway. Updated travel statistics will be available after the first quarter.

Abrams says that the Tollway’s travel demand modeling process simulates travelers’ route choices, taking into account many variables, including the increased cost of tolls and changes in I-Pass (electronic toll collection system) participation.

Saving drivers time and money is a primary goal of the Move Illinois program, although it may be too early in the game for that to be evident. “We hope that our customers will see that, even with the toll rate change, the Tollway continues to be a great value,” says Abrams.

Time will tell whether the toll rate increase in Illinois is a classic example of short-term pain for long-term gain – or a sign of an impending trend in infrastructure financing as funding sources become increasingly scarce.