CHICAGO –The Illinois State Toll Highway Authority will consider Thursday whether to add $2.1 billion in additional projects to the $1.9 billion reconstruction of a major interstate that highlights its current capital program.

The new work relies on $1.3 billion of borrowing and would not require a toll hike.

The $1.9 billion rebuilding of the Interstate 294 Tri-State Tollway is already part of the authority’s current $12 billion, 15-year Move Illinois capital program. The tollway’s customer service and planning committee on Monday recommended that the board approve an additional $2.1 billion of spending on the project with the goal of increasing capacity and relieving congestion.

Construction on the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority's Tri-State Tollway.
The ISTHA may add $2.1 billion of work to the current $1.9 billion plan to rebuild the Central Tri-State toll road. Illinois Tollway

The expanded project would add more lanes and add accommodations for transit and technology.

“If the Tollway is going to make the best investment for our customers and the region, we need to expand these plans, build for the long term and deliver innovative improvements that provide comprehensive solutions to regional transportation needs,” board chairman Bob Schillerstrom said in a statement.

The board will take up the recommendation at its monthly meeting Thursday.

The authority said it concluded that the projects should be added after meeting with communities, businesses and utilities over the last year and a half. The agency also convened a Corridor Planning Council with local governments, civic organizations and freight industry leaders to gain their view of what was needed to improve the highway. Additional input will be sought on the planning and design work.

The authority anticipates covering the added cost with $1.3 billion of additional toll-backed bonding, additional cash now expected through 2025 from the system, and debt service savings above original budgeted estimates.

Additional bonding in 2023 and 2024 is “allowed because of incremental revenue from additional lanes on the Central Tri-State, v-toll fee and lower debt service for bonds already issued. Tollway debt service coverage will remain above 2.0 for all years,” authority documents say.

The authority is operating on a $1.7 billion 2017 budget that includes $300 million of borrowing to finance projects in the sixth year of Move Illinois.

The budget funds $961 million for capital projects, $405 million for debt service, and $336 million for maintenance and operations. In addition to bond proceeds, the budget is funded with $1.38 billion in revenues generated by the 292-mile system.

Revenues are projected to rise by $80 million to $1.38 billion next year primarily due to scheduled commercial truck toll increases approved in 2008, a projected increase in toll transactions, and implementation of the new Illinois Route 390 Tollway. Passenger vehicle toll rates will hold steady.

To support the capital program, the board in 2011 adopted a one-time 87% increase in passenger tolls and is phasing in a 60% increase in commercial vehicle tolls that will also be adjusted annually based on inflation starting in 2018.

Another $2 billion of borrowing was expected through 2022 before the proposed addition of the new Tri-State projects.

Ahead of a sale last year, the three rating agencies that rate the authority’s bonds affirmed its AA-minus-level ratings on about $6 billion of debt secured by toll revenues. All assign a stable outlook.

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