Illinois Tollway

HDPE Conduit Links 'Brain' and Lighting Systems Underground

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HDPE Conduit Links ‘Brain’ and Lighting Systems Underground

Northern Illinois is one of the largest inland ports in the nation, and the Illinois Tollway system is a primary freight route that carries more than 270 million tons of freight annually. In 2012, the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority embarked on a $12 billion capital program to provide northeastern Illinois with a state of the art transportation system designed to relieve congestion, improve mobility and reduce pollution across the Midwest.

The roadway rebuilding and expansion program consisted of reconstructing three existing major tollways, repair and preservation of an additional two tollways, and the Elgin-O’Hare Expressway, a green-field interstate connecting northwest Illinois to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

The work will alleviate congestion in the Chicago area that costs commuters $4 to $7 billion every year. The Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90) rebuilding and widening is expected to save drivers 27 minutes on the commute from Elgin to the Kennedy Expressway. The improved roadway accommodates as many as 83,000 vehicles a day and will save drivers $440 million annually due to reduced congestion and delays.

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Distinctly colored fiber optic and power conduits were laid along the rights-of-way of the Illinois Tollway.

All of the Tollway systems include Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) technology. Installation of dynamic messaging, closed circuit cameras, traffic counters, and automatic tolling enhances safety and reduces delays, resulting in considerable savings for commuters. Amber Alerts, first responder response times, weather event warning and potential evacuation scenarios enhance safety and security.

To link the new electronics and power systems, more than one million feet of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) conduit and Cable in Conduit (CIC) was used to protect fiber optics and power cables for the ITS and highway lighting. According to the Plastics Pipe Institute (PPI), the use of HDPE conduit and CIC can reduce costs, speed installation and provide a long-life protective housing for electrical power and telecommunications cables.

The United States Department of Transportation states that ITS improves transportation safety and mobility and enhances American productivity through the integration of advanced communications technologies into the transportation infrastructure. Intelligent Transportation Systems encompass a broad range of wireless and wire line communications-based information and electronics technologies. Among other benefits, drivers are now receiving roadway information and traffic conditions in real time.

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To link the Illinois Tollway’s electronics and power systems, more than a million feet of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) conduit and CIC (Cable in Conduit) was used to house fiber optics and power cables for the Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) and highway lighting.

Electrical Resource Management (ERM), a member of The Will Group Company (Wheaton, Ill.) and a registered Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, supplied the gantry systems and lighting poles for the new LED highway lighting along with supplying portions of the HDPE conduit manufactured by Blue Diamond Industries.

“We live in northern Illinois and are extremely proud to be able to participate in what is arguably the most advanced piece of interstate highways in the United States,” commented Steve Davis, founder of The Will Group.

On several of the projects, 12 distinctly colored 1 1/4-inch fiber optic and two colored 3-inch power conduits were laid along the rights-of-way. The conduits serve the cameras and tolling and provide for future broadband along the tollway rights-of-way. The extra conduits provide the flexibility to add smart features as they become available in years to come.

HDPE conduit was chosen because of its long available lengths with no joints, ensuring a water-tight, secure installation. Fiber cable can be easily installed in empty conduits for future expansion.

“HDPE conduit is the logical choice for this type of installation along the right-of-way because of its long lengths and toughness,” Dan Burke, VP of electrical contracting firm Hecker and Company (Wheeling, Ill.), said. “The Blue Diamond conduit exceeded project specification and timeline requirements for the projects.”

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HDPE conduit protects the electrical power and telecommunications cables inside and provides corrosion and chemical resistance. Flexible and durable, it is available in long coil lengths to reduce joints and installation time.

“Open road tolling is one of the most popular changes on our roadways,” said Lance MacNevin, PE, director of engineering for the Power and Communications Division of PPI. “The goal is to eliminate toll booths, which opens up the flow of traffic. This type of system, as well as all the other ITS components, requires fiber optic cables and power lines that must be installed properly with a high degree of cost effectiveness and be able to be protected for many years.”

According to MacNevin, HDPE conduit and CIC both have the properties and the ability to provide a solution for both goals. “HDPE conduit is the preferred material to house and protect electrical power and telecommunications cables within,” he said. “It offers unmatched corrosion and chemical resistance, is flexible and durable, and is available in long coil lengths to reduce joints and installation time.” He added that HDPE conduit is available in a variety of sizes, colors, dimensions and lengths.

HDPE conduit can be installed using methods such as Horizontal Directional Drilling (HDD), plowing and laying in open trenches. Typical applications include power utilities, telecommunications, CATV, SCADA, FTTH, ITS highway lighting, and other underground utilities. Premise (Riser and Plenum) conduit has specific characteristics and flame-retardant ratings for use as nonmetallic raceways in buildings.

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George Zagorski (center) of Blue Diamond Industries accepts the PPI Power & Communications Division Project of the Year Award from Lance MacNevin (left), director of engineering for the division, and PPI President Tony Radoszewski.

The Illinois Tollway project was named Project of the Year by PPI’s Power and Communications Division, winning the honor for the conduit manufacturer and PPI member company, Blue Diamond Industries LLC (Lexington, Ky.). The award was presented to Blue Diamond at the association’s annual meeting, which was held in May 2018 at the Coeur d’Alene Resort in Idaho.

Tony Radoszewski, CAE, president of PPI, commented, “These enormous infrastructure projects are much needed and allow the United States to compete on an international basis, both technically with ‘smart highways,’ and with hard assets such as interstate transportation systems. We’re proud that one of our member companies, Blue Diamond, played a part in this project and is well deserving of the Project of the Year honor.” UP

The Plastics Pipe Institute Inc. (PPI) is the major North American trade association representing all segments of the plastic pipe industry, dedicated to promoting plastic as the materials of choice for pipe and conduit applications. PPI’s annual Projects of the Year program recognizes the use of plastic pipe in exceptional applications. Submissions are reviewed, evaluated and voted upon by PPI members. For additional information, visit

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