I-PASS proposal won’t cost more tollbooth jobs

By Nina Gougis

Toll workers’ jobs at major toll plazas will not be eliminated as more automated and I-PASS lanes open throughout the state, toll officials said.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich announced a $5.3 billion project in August to build more I-PASS lanes and renovate old roads. To finance the project, cash tolls will go up by about 40 cents.

The prepaid toll system, which opened in 1993, is now used by 50 percent of all toll users and should increase to 75 percent in the next three years as more I-PASS lanes are available, said Joelle McGinnis, press secretary for the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority.

Concerns arose over whether the increased use of I-PASS lanes will replace the need for manned toll booths and result in worker layoffs. McGinnis said automated lanes already have replaced some manned booths at some ramps, such as the Interstate 88 Annie Glidden exit.

Although some manned booths have been eliminated, the long-range plan will not eliminate manned booths at larger toll plazas, McGinnis said.

Worker layoffs are not as much as a concern as worker safety for the Service Employees International Union Local 73, which represents 900 toll workers.

The union began working on a contract with the ISTHA in September that will legalize their agreement not to lay off workers, said Joanna Misnik, communications director for the SEIU 73.

Misnik said that, on average, one tollway worker dies each year from traffic accidents. She said the union wants to be part of the tollway’s long-range plan to help ensure the safest environment for its employees.

“We have been assured at this point by top management that there will be no layoffs,” Misnik said. “But we want to be part of the process to improve worker safety.”

Their current contract expires Dec. 31, but it could be as late as April before a final contract is reached, Misnik said.