A Cook County Circuit Court judge last week dismissed a lawsuit challenging the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority’s steep increase in tolls that will take effect Jan. 1 to fund a $12 billion capital program.
Taxpayers United of America sued the authority earlier this year after the authority board approved the program and the rate hike to support it.
The lawsuit argued that the ISTHA has violated Illinois law by not converting tollways back to freeways, as it contends was the intention of the laws that established the authority in 1953.
Judge Rita Novak denied the group’s motion to block the increase and dismissed the suit, saying she saw no proof the authority was violating its state statutes through its continued existence.
The group contended that the statutes require the agency be dissolved after its original bonds were retired, while lawyers from the attorney general’s office, which represented the tollway, argued that the language calls for dissolution only when all bonds and debt obligations are retired.
The authority approved the capital program and a steep increase in passenger tolls in August. The additional toll revenue will go to repay $4.8 billion of borrowing to support the program. The agency anticipates borrowing about $200 million next year to support the first phase of the program.
The program funds new toll roads and projects aimed at keeping the 52-year-old system’s existing roadways in good repair through 2026. It provides $8 billion for improvements to existing roads and $4 billion for new and expanded roadways.
Moody’s Investors Service rates the authority Aa3. Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor’s rate the tollway’s $4 billion of debt double-A minus.