Here’s why drivers can’t get their emissions tested anywhere in Chicago

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CHICAGO -- If your vehicle is more than four years old, you have to pass an emissions test before you can get your license plates renewed. It’s something many people describe as an annoying chore, but in the last three months it has become even harder for people living in Chicago because there are no more emissions testing facilities left in the entire city.

The last two closed on Nov. 1. thanks to a new testing contract aimed at reducing costs and streamlining the program. It will save taxpayers at least $11 million a year, and nearly $100 million over the life of the contract. But that means the closest facilities for people in the city are now in Skokie and Bedford Park.

State Sen. Heather Steans (7th Dist.) and fellow lawmakers have written to the EPA asking for it to renegotiate the contract to put at least one station in the city.

"Certainly trying to travel further distance is exactly the antithesis of what we’re trying to do here and trying to keep emissions out of the air,” Steans said.

The Clean Air Act requires vehicle emissions inspection programs in large urbanized areas that don’t meet national ambient air quality standards. The EPA says Illinois has made significant strides, but levels of air pollution still exceed where they should be. By getting your vehicles emissions tested, the EPA says you’re complying with federal regulations and also making a real impact on air quality in Chicago.

The new test is quick, and only takes about three minutes from the time you pull up to when they scan your vehicle to check its eligibility, plug it into a computer, and check the onboard diagnostic system.

Applus Technologies won the contract to operate and manage the testing facilities in Illinois starting Nov. 1. The EPA says it was Applus’ decision to close the last two facilities in Chicago, but Applus says it’s following the state’s guidelines.

According to state statute, testing stations have to be within a 12 mile radius of every driver’s home.  The Skokie and Bedford Park facilities are both less than a 12 mile radius from the loop. The EPA says if it becomes a problem down the road with the 12 mile radius, then it will talk to the contractor and address the issue of station locations.

Lawmakers say they’ve heard complaints from their constituents in Chicago and hope the EPA can reopen at least one of the facilities in the city.

The new contractor says it has doubled capacity at its testing locations to accommodate more vehicles and it’s also now providing license plate renewals at its faciltiies so you can get it done right after you pass your test.

As for where and when to go, you can check IllinoisAirTeam.net to find the location closest to you, as well as current wait times. Experts say it’s best to avoid the busiest times at the beginning or end of the month.