Congestion Pricing Coming to Chicago?

Inbound traffic on Chicago's Kennedy Expressway on July 9, 2010. A new study has suggested Chicago adopt congestion pricing to cut down on wasteful driving. Photo via the Chicago Tribune.

“There’s nothing more frustrating than dealing with traffic. Whatever that cost would be, I would be happy to pay. It would make the quality of my life much better.”

– Mario Reed, an aspiring attorney in Chicago, quoted in the Chicago Tribune

Congestion pricing is looking more likely in Chicago. After all, as transport experts  have been pointing out for years:  “Congestion pricing is about the only weapon we have in our arsenal to encourage more efficient use of our expressways [and tollways].”


Recently, we wrote about congestion pricing as a global tool to reduce the societal damage — including fiscal, environmental, and psychological damage — caused by congestion. In addition, Robin Chase, the founding CEO of Zipcar, contributed a post about technology recommendations for congestion pricing. Robin’s post highlights that technology is not a significant barrier to congestion pricing; one of the most significant barriers, then, is political will to implement the policy.

But as drivers grow increasingly frustrated with congestion in their cities, congestion pricing is becoming more mainstream, and gaining credence as a politically-viable — and arguably necessary — tool to reduce gridlock.


Recent analysis of Chicago’s transit system gives cause for greater optimism among congestion-pricing advocates.

Chicago has the third-worst traffic congestion in the country.  Now, a federally-funded study by the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) and the Illinois Tollway says it’s time for Chicagoland to implement congestion pricing. The study notes that congestion pricing is already working in places like London, and on other modes of transport: for instance, flights get more expensive around holidays.

The study, titled, “Congestion pricing: a smart strategy to reduce gridlock,” highlights that the Chicago region loses $7.3 billion annually in wasted time, fuel and environmental damage from congestion. According to the study, that’s “enough money to fund a Red Line extension on the CTA, the Elgin-O’Hare and West O’Hare Bypass, a new West Loop Transportation Center, and new lanes on Interstate 80.” To bring this message home: “For every hour a driver sits in rush-hour traffic in the Chicago area, he or she kisses goodbye $14.76. That’s $1,579 a year – enough to cover several months’ worth of groceries, fill up the average car’s gas tank 25 times, or take a family of four to Disney World!”

The study found 85 percent approval of congestion pricing among stakeholders “if it assures me my travel won’t be slowed by traffic conditions.”

While further analysis will be needed before the MPC, area residents and elected officials decide on an implementation policy, the study modeled the impact of priced lanes on travel times in 2020 along three main routes. Results indicated significant reduction in congestion and diversion to public transit, along with millions of dollars in additional toll revenue.

To read the full draft report, go here.

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