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IL PIRG: “You can’t build your way out of congestion”

Tuesday, Jun 18, 2019

* Illinois PIRG…

The Tri-State Tollway in the western Chicago suburbs is a testament to the fact that you can’t build your way out of congestion. But even after two previous widening projects failed to relieve congestion, the Illinois Tollway is still planning to spend $4 billion to widen the road from four lanes in each direction to five — and in some places six — lanes. According to a new report from Illinois PIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group, these efforts will once again fail to alleviate traffic.

“In the Chicago area, new and expanded highways have failed again and again to relieve congestion,” said Abe Scarr, Illinois PIRG Education Fund director. “As Chicago builds a transportation system of the future, there is no reason to think that applying the same flawed logic to the same transportation problems will work this time.”

Since 1996, more than 1,000 miles of new highway lanes have been added in and around Chicago. These projects — and all the asphalt that comes with them — have contributed to worsening traffic and more sprawl, while displacing homes and businesses, and increasing air pollution. According to Highway Boondoggles 5, the new Tri-State Tollway widening will continue these trends, all while wasting valuable transportation resources that would be better spent on public transit, walk and bike infrastructure, and road repair.

“Sometimes it’s the infrastructure we don’t build that makes all the difference,” said Gideon Weissman of Frontier Group, report co-author. “Cities from Dallas to Tampa to Milwaukee have discovered that ditching boondoggle highway projects has opened up new opportunities to build stronger, cleaner and more fiscally sustainable communities.”

The report recommends that Illinois cancel the Tri-State Tollway and other proposed highway projects, and instead invest in more effective transportation solutions, such as road repair and transit expansion.

“Illinois, like the rest of America, still has a misplaced appetite for costly and disruptive highway expansion projects. But if we’re smarter about how we spend our transportation dollars, we can achieve a more sustainable, affordable and better-functioning transportation system,” said Matt Casale, U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s Transportation Campaign director. “That means avoiding spending billions of dollars on harmful, wasteful projects such as Tri-State Tollway Widening.”

The full report is here.


- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - NoGifts - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 12:34 pm:

    “Says the anti-auto advocacy group” We could build our way out of congestion if that were the goal. That is not the goal, because we would not support the funding required or the landscape it would produce. However, the tri-state needs reconstruction and it will be modernized with advanced technology and new capacity. The tollway is a great system and shows how much you can do with adequate funding.

  2. - Just Me 2 - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 12:40 pm:

    We need greater adoption of high occupancy vehicle (HOV) that can let vehicles with multiple people and buses zip through the traffic. We need to use our existing roads smarter because we can’t just keep building more roads forever.

  3. - Longtimelistener - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 12:42 pm:

    This is very much a real thing. Google “Induced Demand”…If you build it, they will come.

  4. - NoGifts - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 12:48 pm:

    Induced demand…they will come but they will mostly come from other destinations, modes, or routes not so much new traffic. Even induced demand has a ceiling, since every driver only has 24 hours to spend driving in a day. And drivers prefer to minimize their time spent driving not maximize it.

  5. - Huh? - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 12:50 pm:

    “all while wasting valuable transportation resources that would be better spent on public transit, walk and bike infrastructure”

    How am I’m supposed to take public transportation to work when there aren’t any buses or trains to take me where I want to go? Ride a bike? Don’t have all day to ride 140 miles for a one way commute.

    Public transit is ok in densely populated areas. Making connections between outlying communities into a major metropolitan area is sparse at best. Criticizing highway projects for adding capacity, while offering platitudes of walk, bike, ride a bus or train does nothing. Walking distance is at best a mile or so. Riding a bike is a couple of miles. Bus and train are dependent on the routes available.

    As a side note, I wonder how many of PIRG employees use the tollway that they casually dismiss as a boondoggle.

  6. - Sir Reel - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 12:52 pm:

    The greater Chicago area used to have a predictable transportation pattern
    People drove into the city to work and drove out to their homes in the suburbs.

    Today, jobs have spread out into the suburbs - think the big office complexes along the interstates. Transportation is a plate of spaghetti, with people driving all over the metro area. Building more roads has contributed to this congested mess. The lack of land use planning and communities competing for the next big development have also contributed.

  7. - NIU Grad - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 12:54 pm:

    Also…I pay to use the Illinois Tollway…why would I want them to take that money and spend it on transportation options I can’t use to get to work instead of focusing on the product I’m paying for?

  8. - Not a Billionaire - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 12:56 pm:

    Traffic congestion and volumes are way down on the city of Chicago arterials. The Folks at has put off 53 to The distant future because it can’t generate the volume to justify it. The same with the Williams and crosstown the only projects left alive. So it’s not one simple thing.

  9. - Huh? - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 12:57 pm:

    “In the Chicago area, new and expanded highways have failed again and again to relieve congestion,”

    What do you expect when the highways are so congested that adding a lane or two in each direction isn’t enough to make a difference? There isn’t enough room within the right of way to add enough lanes to make a difference. So IDOT and the tollway do the best they can with what they have as they attempt to alleviate congestion with small incremental changes to the highway system.

  10. - need a name - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 12:58 pm:

    How could Tollway funds be used for transit? Would the funds need to be swept and given to the RTA instead?

  11. - OutOfState - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 12:58 pm:

    Induced demand is real, and by investing in expanding the highway and inducing raw demand, we’re not investing in smarter solutions that would induce demand for traffic decongestants, like public transport, HOV alternatives, etc.

  12. - JB13 - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 12:59 pm:

    That would be quite the bait and switch, eh? Double the gas taxes to pay for roads, and then use the money for things other than roads. That would go over great.

    That said, I also question the wisdom of constantly building bigger projects when we struggle to maintain what we have.

  13. - phocion - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 1:00 pm:

    Another part of the induced demand logic groups like PIRG fail to mention is that while some motorists may choose to take a less congested toll road, they are reducing congestion on local “free” roads. Motorists using the Central Tri-State are not going to forego using mass transit because no Metra or CTA lines go north-south. The Tollway improvements will undoubtedly make PACE bus rapid transit a more attractive and efficient option, too.

  14. - Louis - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 1:04 pm:

    - Huh? - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 12:50 pm:

    You said what I was thinking. How many of them use the roads. I wish that I could work from home or worked closer to home but neither are an option.

    If there was a good public transit system that would get me where I needed to be like in Europe, I would take it. However, if Indid it take to my job, I would take over two to three hours each way and I would still have to walk another hour.

  15. - ChrisB - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 1:04 pm:

    I do love when a national interest group drops in and complains about problems without offering real solutions.

    They’re knocking the TriState expansion because the road was twice widened fifty and thirty years ago? I wonder if the authors of that report are still in the same apartment they were renting right out of college, or if they had to move when life events changed their circumstances.

  16. - Anyone Remember - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 1:09 pm:

    You may not be able to build your way out of congestion, but that should never stop building that makes the roads safer. For example, Springfield, 2 lane I-55 when it is 3 lanes north and south of the city? Really?

  17. - Nick - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 1:12 pm:

    The point they’re making is one which is, well, fundamentally correct. The science has been proven for years that bigger highways, more lanes, etc, just induce more demand to use said roads. The result being congestion usually doesn’t get any better, or sometimes could even get worse.

  18. - walker - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 1:14 pm:

    “”Traffic congestion and volumes are way down on city of Chicago arterials.”
    citation perhaps?

  19. - Skeptic - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 1:30 pm:

    I remember reading an editorial many years ago making this exact point, only it was “42 lanes” and “Florida.”

  20. - Not a Billionaire - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 1:31 pm:

    Google complete streets city of chicago. 140 pages of plans and data. Dramatic drop in traffic volumes.

  21. - Progressive Guy - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 1:33 pm:

    I take the tri-state every day to work and home, and congestion continues to worsen.

    If there was any reasonable way to take a train, I would do it in a heartbeat.

  22. - Amalia - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 1:49 pm:

    as the population ages, the use of cars will increase. it’s not just a population size thing, it’s a comfortable use thing. do you actually think your aging relatives are going to take public transit? Mine don’t. they want to go to the doc via car. this will only increase. clearing roads from parking will help. and, yes, more road space. we’re not taking bikes to doc appointments.

  23. - Been There - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 1:54 pm:

    They also leave out the roads including the tollway have seen huge increases in truck traffic. If you want to be the transportation center of the country you need sufficient and efficient infrastructure.

  24. - Just Me 2 - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 2:06 pm:

    People talk of using the Tollway to fund transit because that is what they do in New York, but in New York the agency that manages their tolls is the same that manage their transit because the two systems overlap each other.

    Not exactly the same in Chicagoland where the Tollway doesn’t come into the City of Chicago at all, which is where the most transit use is.

  25. - DisaffectedMillennial - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 2:12 pm:

    Agree 100% with PIRG. If you don’t like the tri-state tollway congestion, then move closer to your job or public transit, or find a job closer to your home.

  26. - Former State Worker - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 2:27 pm:

    They didn’t really offer a solution. They just complained and offered broad generalizations about how the money “should” be used instead. They are acting like the IL GOP.

  27. - Odysseus - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 2:29 pm:

    “The report recommends that Illinois cancel the Tri-State Tollway and other proposed highway projects, and instead invest in more effective transportation solutions, such as road repair and transit expansion.”


    What are the main automotive arteries today? How much would it take to add transit that allows people to eliminate auto trips?

    What would be the relative passenger loads today if something like the Metra Star line had been built paralleling I355? That would fulfill my daily commuting needs, and get me out of my car a couple of hundred times a year.

  28. - Former State Worker - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 2:33 pm:

    =The point they’re making is one which is, well, fundamentally correct. The science has been proven for years that bigger highways, more lanes, etc, just induce more demand to use said roads. The result being congestion usually doesn’t get any better, or sometimes could even get worse.=

    That’s fine but they aren’t really offering a viable solution to this problem.

    This video offers some solutions like ramp meters:

  29. - Father Ted - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 2:34 pm:

    I worked with many transportation planners in a past life. Some have a mentality that they know best how things should be; failing to realize their vision is not trusted or wanted by the public.

    In this case, I am a regular Tri-State driver and the road needed to be reconstructed. That is what precipitated this rebuild project; not the need to add lanes. Redesigning the roadway to improve capacity and flow were opportunities rising from the rebuild.

  30. - Anyone Remember - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 3:01 pm:

    Been There -
    One of the few positives of the Trans Texas Parkway (”NAFTA Super Highway”) was separate roads for passenger vehicles and semis. Something the Toll Highway Authority should look into.

  31. - FPJ - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 3:06 pm:

    The commenters who point out that saying “take transit” is all well and good, but not a realistic option for many suburban-suburban or city-suburban commuters are correct. The options really are bad right now given the way the built environment is configured in the ‘burbs.

    The problem is that, as long as we keep making it (slightly) easier to drive and people keep sprawling out to the exurbs that will never change. The transit agencies (and probably the tollway) need to be truly merged into the RTA and (what used to be) Metra needs to be modernized like Toronto is trying to do.

  32. - FPJ - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 3:09 pm:

    One more point on folding the Tollway into the RTA: one of the main justifications of managed lanes (i.e., variable toll lanes) is that the money thus raised ought to be used to provide alternative (transit) for people who cannot afford the managed lanes. Given the tollway’s independence and mission, I don’t think that would be legally possible under the current arrangements.

  33. - State of DenIL - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 3:26 pm:

    They doubled the gas tax to pay for roads.

  34. - Wylie Coyote - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 3:56 pm:

    OK. We let the PIRG minions have their uneducated say. Now let them hop on their tricycles and ride back home. Sheesh.

  35. - OneMan - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 4:25 pm:

    Using existing lanes and turning them into HOV has been a failure around the country (can’t find the reference) doing it with new lanes has been more successful.

    As a long time Metra rider, I am still not convinced that a bit pot of money is the compelte answer to improving things, it would seem making their partners (Amtrak, BNSF, others) have some real skin in the game might help as well.

  36. - Justacitizen - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 9:27 pm:

    More lanes don’t transfer faster traffic. It seems that bottlenecks and congestion is caused by slow traffic in the left lane(s) no matter how many lanes there are

  37. - Six Degrees of Separation - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 10:10 pm:

    The Tollway, despite its faults, is one of the few success stories in transportation in the Chicago area, and it pays for itself without federal or state subsidy. The Jane Addams rebuild was fabulous. The Tri-State and the OHare ring road will be hailed when they are opened, I predict. And I use Metra and CTA way more than I use the tollway; these agencies should be supported, but there’s a limit to what transit can do, just like roadway expansion.

  38. - Union Thug Gramma - Wednesday, Jun 19, 19 @ 12:33 am:

    We need to build up our mass transit infrastructure and make it accessible. My dad worked in Chicago and lived in Joliet, took the Rock Island faithfully. I’ve always loved taking the train (cuz I hate parking fees) and usually took it, but we haven’t upgraded that infrastructure to accomadate many…Usually when I’m on the train (BNSF now), halfway there, we’re SRO

  39. - Lawn Man - Wednesday, Jun 19, 19 @ 3:57 am:

    “- DisaffectedMillennial - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 2:12 pm:”

    You have to live longer to understand. Life is not that easy.

  40. - Lawn Man - Wednesday, Jun 19, 19 @ 4:00 am:

    - Not a Billionaire - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 1:31 pm:

    This is not the case. Traffic has gotten worse in the last 50 years. I know from experience.

  41. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Jun 19, 19 @ 4:03 am:

    - Nick - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 1:12 pm:

    Junk Science, It is not even science. The average Man and Woman will go where we need to for work. Companies decide where to locate not the average Joe and Jane.

  42. - Da Big Bad Wolf - Wednesday, Jun 19, 19 @ 6:12 am:

    ==Companies decide where to locate not the average Joe and Jane.==
    Companies select sites based on where they think they can get the most bang for the buck, i.e. where likely employees (Joe and Jane) are willing to commute to.

  43. - Da Big Bad Wolf - Wednesday, Jun 19, 19 @ 6:21 am:

    ===That would be quite the bait and switch, eh? Double the gas taxes to pay for roads, and then use the money for things other than roads. That would go over great.===

    I don’t believe anyone stated the gas tax would only go for roads, it was to go for infrastructure.

  44. - Just Saying - Wednesday, Jun 19, 19 @ 7:33 am:

    A lot of the reason for congestion isn’t that there aren’t enough roads but that there are too many places where you need to go from the far left lane to the far right lane and in doing so you have to cut in front of people and you have those that weave in and out of traffic causing people to hit their brakes. Once people have to hit the brakes, it is a chain reaction all up and down the roadway. If everyone drove the speed limit so all the traffic flowed smoothly, then people could merge in smoothly and traffic would keep moving. Congestion though is basically not the fault of the highways but rather the crazy drivers using the system.

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