Innovation Award Recognizes Partnership Between the Illinois Tollway and Pace

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In recognition of a unique partnership between the Illinois Tollway and Pace Suburban Bus, the American Public Transportation Association awarded the partnership its 2020 Innovation Award.

The Tollway and Pace worked together to expand transit, deliver roadway improvements and improve overall mobility on the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90).

“The partnership between the Illinois Tollway and Pace serves as a great example of what can be accomplished when transportation and transit agencies work together,” said Illinois Tollway Executive Director José Alvarez.

The American Public Transportation Association represents public transit agencies and private firms across the national and international transportation industry. The APTA Innovation Award acknowledges public transportation systems that demonstrate innovative concepts or effective problem-solving techniques not previously applied in the public transportation industry.

The partnership with the Tollway set a new standard for Pace and the 35 million passengers the agency serves in 200 municipalities across the Chicago area. While planning its I-90 Market Expansion Program, Pace worked in coordination with the Tollway as it was planning the $2.5 billion rebuilding and widening of I-90 from Rockford to Chicago.

The many transit and transportation improvements delivered on I-90 resulted from multiple coordinated planning efforts not only between Pace and the Tollway, but also the Illinois Department of Transportation, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, Regional Transportation Authority, Cook and Kane counties and numerous municipalities, businesses and residents.

Improvements included six new bus routes, enhanced service on existing routes, 25 new buses, new transit facilities providing more than 500 free parking spaces, and the state’s first highway-based bus rapid transit station at Barrington Road in Hoffman Estates.

The most significant innovation of the I-90 Project was the construction of flex lanes and technology to support a SmartRoad, enabling buses (and emergency vehicles) to travel on a dedicated lane of I-90. These flex lanes improve travel times on a network of a more than a dozen Pace bus routes.

With SmartRoad, the Tollway can take a data-driven approach to congestion management on I-90 and has been able to report to Pace (and to digital screens above the roadway) in real time when buses can use the Flex Lanes to avoid congestion. The Tollway is also able to continually monitor traffic incidents and travel times and communicate them to Pace’s Operations team.

The collaboration between Pace and the Illinois Tollway marked a paradigm shift in highway and transit planning for Northern Illinois to deal with increasing travel demands. The improvements drove ridership, improved on-time performance, and increased visibility for the suburban bus division of the RTA. The Tollway’s investments in a dedicated running way with real-time information provides Pace with an advantage over driving, guaranteeing reliable service for transit users.

As the transportation sector looks for ways to reduce congestion as development increases, and as the public sector more broadly looks to reduce carbon emissions and contain costs, this sort of partnership is not just innovative, but imperative.

“Collaboration was the key to this project’s success,” said Pace Executive Director Rocky Donahue. “Every partner involved in this project ultimately has the same goal, and that’s to serve the people of this region. We worked together for the greater good and the result is better access for all to employment, medical care, education and all our region has to offer.”