Illinois’ $20 million toll-collecting machines now dead weight

State News

DES PLAINES, IL – AUGUST 27: Toll collection machines are seen at an Illinois Tollway toll collection area August 27, 2004 in Des Plaines, Illinois. Illinois Governor Rod R. Blagojevich has unveiled a plan for the future of the Illinois Tollway. The 10-year, $5.3 billion plan will reduce traffic and congestion, rebuild and reconstruct the entire Tollway system, add lanes to the system’s major roads and make Illinois the first state in the nation to convert to Open Road Tolling, also creating 252,000 jobs. (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WTVO) — Illinois’ fleet of over 100 automatic tollway payment machines are now collecting dust.

The machines, which were introduced in 2017 under Gov. Bruce Rauner, are now sitting unused due to the COVID-19 pandemic, being deactivated in an attempt to prevent the spread of the virus, according to the Daily Herald. Between purchase and maintenance costs, the machines cost the state over $20 million.

The tollway’s aging coin buckets were replaced with the “more technologically advanced automatic toll payment machines that will provide more payment options and better service to our customers,” according to spokesman Dan Rozek. “The new ATPMs will cost less than $100,000 each and will offer more payment options than the current coin machines, which are at least 20 years old, accept only coins, and are difficult to repair because replacement parts have to be specially manufactured.”

While the machines made paying easier for highway drivers, many were not happy with the change, as it was reported in November 2019 that 80 out of the 110 machines were reportedly not providing change to drivers that were paying in cash. This resulted in the Illinois Tollway agency being overpaid by about $152,000.

When Governor J.B. Pritzker assumed office, the new tollway leaders he appointed stood by the technology, saying that “the ATPMs operate reliably and function well in real-world conditions, with the machines as a whole remaining fully operational more than 99% of the time.”

While the machines collected an estimated $19.7 million in their lifetimes, about 91% of tollway drivers payed tolls electronically with I-PASS or E-Z Pass.

“I guess the toll-payers are the turkeys in this story,” said former state Sen. Bill Morris of Grayslake, who was tollway board director from 2009 to 2011. “It was a clear policy that the tollway was moving away from human and machine collections to fully electronic toll collections. How could a subsequent board have possibly thought it was a good idea to purchase and install these machines?”

The machines are in the process of being removed, and there are reportedly no plans to reinstall them.

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