Toll Road/Skyway 3-penny opera gets even more dramatic

2013-05-09T21:00:00Z 2014-03-31T16:07:26Z Toll Road/Skyway 3-penny opera gets even more dramaticKeith Benman, (219) 933-3326

A 3-year-old dispute over a 3-cent fee charged to I-Pass users of the Chicago Skyway and Indiana Toll Road may get some renewed attention from the Illinois Tollway Authority.

An Illinois Tollway Authority committee could begin talking about how to deal with the fee again as early as next week, according to an emailed statement from authority spokeswoman Joelle McGinnis.

"We will be exploring this policy further to consider its fairness to all of our customers as part of the evaluation we are doing as we work to develop a more flexible, responsive and effective electronic toll collection system," McGinnis said.

At the same time the authority has a goal of implementing a new "cutting-edge system" of tolling to be in place by 2015, which could affect the timing of any solution. 

A representative for the private company operating the Skyway and Toll Road could not be reached for comment.

The 3-cent fee the Illinois Tollway Authority collects adds up to about $750,000 per year, which is paid to the private company operating the Skyway and Toll Road, McGinnis said.

It costs the Illinois Tollway Authority an estimated $1.5 million just to process the fee, McGinnis said.

The dispute started in 2009, when the private company operating the Chicago Skyway and Indiana Toll Road began dinging I-Pass users for 3 cents on top of the usual toll every time they cruised either road. At the time, a spokesman for the company said it was because the Illinois Tollway Authority was charging a transaction fee every time a user of I-Zoom, the old transponder issued by the Indiana Toll Road operator, used their Illinois roads.

However, the Illinois Tollway transaction fee is charged directly to the operator of the Skyway and Toll Road, which distributed the I-Zoom, so essentially it is rolled into tolls and existing fees and never noticed by motorists. I-Zoom now has been replaced by a transponder called E-ZPass, but the 3-cent fee for I-Pass holders on the Skyway and Toll Road remains in place.

The current 3-cent fee adds up to so much because about 59 percent of all transponder transactions on the Chicago Skyway and Indiana Toll Road are done with I-Pass.

By comparison, the transaction fee collected by the Illinois Tollway Authority directly from the operator of the Skyway and Toll Road adds up to much less. That's because Indiana E-ZPass users account for only about 1 percent of all toll transactions on the Illinois Tollway, according to the authority.

Skirmishes and near wars are nothing new when it comes to the relationship between the Illinois Tollway Authority and the operator of the Skyway and Toll Road.

When the Indiana Toll Road implemented electronic tolling five years ago, the private operator said it would grant a 40 percent discount only to I-Zoom users and not I-Pass users. That lead to a threat from the Illinois Tollway Authority to blackball all 90,000 Indiana residents using I-Pass by excluding them from toll discounts on their roads.

There are 4.6 million total active I-Pass transponders in circulation, with about 205,000 of them registered to customers with Indiana addresses, according to the Illinois Tollway Authority.

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