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Exploring congestion pricing in Chicagoland

Photo by Chris Brunn

Download the draft report, “The Road Less Traveled: Exploring Congestion Pricing in Chicagoland.”

Across the country, people are tired of wasting time and money stuck in traffic with no real alternatives. American motorists lose nearly 4.2 billion hours sitting behind the wheel, while the U.S. economy takes a $87.2 billion annual loss as a result of this congestion. A 2008 MPC report found that the Chicago region alone loses $7.3 billion every year in wasted time, fuel and environmental damages – enough money to fund a Red Line extension on the CTA, the Elgin-O’Hare and West O’Hare Bypass, a new West Loop Transportation Center, and new lanes on Interstate 80.  

Recognizing the severity of the problem, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is funding projects to study the potential of new strategies to combat the bottlenecks choking American cities and our economy. Congestion pricing is one of those strategies.

Successful only if complemented with enhanced public transit, congestion pricing can be an effective way to reduce congestion, improve the environment, and expand transportation choices to meet people’s needs. Congestion pricing works by giving people options: to pay a fee to drive on a traffic-free road, to travel on an alternative route, or to take transit. Currently this tool is being studied or is in operation in at least 22 states, including Illinois.

Learn more about congestion pricing by reading MPC’s draft report, “The Road Less Traveled: Exploring Congestion Pricing in Chicagoland,” funded by the FHWA and commissioned by the Illinois Tollway, with technical consultation provided by Wilbur Smith Associates, Inc., and guidance provided by regional mayors and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.

The data suggest that by better managing new highway capacity, the region may be able to curb its congestion problem and generate additional revenue that can be reinvested into the transportation network. While further study is needed before pursuing any implementation of congestion pricing, this study provides a comprehensive understanding of the potential effects of such a system in the region.

We know that the Chicago region cannot afford to ignore its congestion problem. Today’s morning rush hour traffic is expected to increase by more than 12 percent in the next 20 years. Afternoon traffic is going to be almost twice as bad by 2030. The region must continue to experiment with new solutions, or risk its economic competitiveness, health, and quality of life.

Click here to learn more about Minnesota's successful congestion pricing program.

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