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Tollway Board OKs higher speed limits; not high enough for Oberweis

Illinois Tollway Board members Thursday rejected arguments for increasing certain speed limits to 70 mph, but agreed to nudge them up to 60 mph or 65 mph on portions of the Tri-State, Reagan Memorial and Veterans Memorial Tollways.

Illinois Sen. Jim Oberweis (R-Sugar Grove) labeled the move “shameful” for recommending lower speed limits than those listed in a law he sponsored. He called for a Senate Transportation Committee hearing on the matter.

The Illinois Department of Transportation and a legislative committee on rules must approve the changes on the Tri-State (I-94/I-294/I-80), Reagan Memorial (I-88) and Veterans Memorial (I-355) Tollways before new speed limits can be posted. Postings are expected in June or July at the earliest, tollway spokeswoman Wendy Abrams said.

Oberweis said a law that went into effect Jan. 1 requires the tollway to raise speed limits to 70 mph unless a study finds that speed unsafe. He charged that a tollway study that recommended something less was flawed and “double counted” factors that drivers take into account every day.

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Tollway committee OKs plan to increase speed limits, but not to 70 mph

The vote Thursday came after Steve Doner of the National Motorists Association gave board members an analysis using federal standards that indicated 70 mph or 75 mph was a more appropriate speed. Some 85 percent of tollway motorists drive at or below that range now in the targeted areas, he said. It’s the slower drivers who create danger, he said.

One consultant predicted 80 percent of drivers go faster than the new 60 mph limit on some stretches of tollway, Doner said.

“You’re going to define 80 percent of your customers as lawbreakers,” Doner said. That’s “clearly illogical,” he said.

He warned “speed traps” could be set up to catch such violators.

Tollway officials said the methodology cited by Doner is recommended for states that do not have or cannot afford a traffic engineer or consultant.

The tollway and its consultants used a more comprehensive approach that considered more factors, including the speed limits of highways that connect into targeted tollway segments, officials said.

In addition, officials said, most tollway accidents are related to congestion, when travel is below the speed limit, and not to drivers moving at less than the predominant speed despite clear sailing.

The batch of materials that Doner gave board members apparently impressed one of them — Tom Weisner, the mayor of Aurora, who was the sole “no” vote.

“My experience and observation and some materials provided to me give me pause on this issue,” Weisner said in voting against the new speed limits.

“What I see right now is people are regularly breaking the law without consequence by exceeding speed limits significantly. I don’t think that will change by moving the speed limit to 60, and I have qualms about that.”

Also Thursday, Tollway Inspector General James Wagner said a tollway customer service representative has agreed to resign and pay the tollway $10,000 in restitution for money he improperly pocketed from drivers during the resolution of toll violations.

The employee, Mario Spacone, told officials he pocketed cash payments from customers for nearly three years while working at the Des Plaines and O’Hare oases.

Spacone allegedly would offer to settle toll fines for one amount in cash, then record a far lesser amount as the official settlement and pocket the difference.

A colleague and friend said Spacone later told her he would “bend down by the safe and cuff money and put it in his shoe or something like that” when drivers gave him cash resolutions to their violations, an IG report indicated.

The case has since been forwarded to the Cook County state’s attorneys office, and more cameras are being installed to detect and deter such activity, officials said. Plus, the tollway has since posted signs telling customers that they are allowed to pay by cash or credit and should call a certain phone number if they do not receive a receipt, tollway officials said.

The speed limit changes, if imposed, would mean 62 percent of the tollway system has received speed limit increases in the past five years, officials said. All changes were to the safest and most efficient speeds possible, they said.

Previously, based on prior state legislation, speed limits increased to 70 mph on portions of Interstate 90 in Winnebago County and Interstate 88 in DeKalb, Ogle and Lee counties.

The speed limit increases approved Thursday by the Tollway Board:

Tri-State Tollway (I-94/I-294/I-80):

  • I-294 between the I-57 Interchange and the I-55 Interchange — from 55 mph to 60 mph for all traffic.
  • I-294 between Touhy Avenue and Deerfield Road — from 55 mph to 60 mph for all traffic.
  • I-94 between Deerfield Road and Stearns School Road — from 55 to 65 mph for cars and buses, from 55 to 60 mph for trucks.

Reagan Memorial Tollway (I-88):

  • I-88 between Eisenhower Expressway and to Illinois 31 — from 55 to 60 mph for all traffic.
  • I-88 between Illinois 31 and Orchard Road — from 55 to 65 mph for cars and buses, from 55 to 60 mph for trucks.
  • I-88 between Orchard Road and the Kane/DeKalb County line — from 55 to 65 mph for buses, from 55 to 60 mph for trucks (cars remain at 65 mph).

Veterans Memorial Tollway (I-355):

  • I-355 between I-55 to Army Trail Road — from 55 to 60 mph for all traffic.