A Red Letter Week for regional, national infrastructure planning
I ride the train every day, so I’m sold. But more people need to hear what report after report has proven: Whether you commute by public transit or private vehicle, transit delivers major benefits to metropolitan Chicago. Environment Illinois is providing the latest jolt of evidence, with a new report focused on the economic and environmental benefits Metra delivers to our region. Some of the top takeaways:
- Per passenger, Metra emits 7.3 times less global warming pollution than sedans, 8.6 times less than SUVs, and 13.2 times less than pickup trucks.
- Metra saves travelers about 34.8 million gallons of gasoline every year. That’s the same amount of fuel consumed by 61,000 cars annually.
- Transit and rail investments have created more than twice as many jobs as road investments, per federal dollar, in the year since the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Job creation is top of mind these days, as local and federal officials struggle to pick up the pace of economic recovery. Candidates who want to deliver long-term jobs should support the next federal surface transportation bill. On Monday, at a White House meeting with a bipartisan group of five former Dept. of Transportation secretaries (including Sam Skinner), national transportation policy experts, mayors (including Mayor Richard M. Daley) and governors, President Obama discussed how his plan for upgrading America’s roads, rails and runways will immediately put people back to work. "This is work that needs to be done. There are workers who are ready to do it," said the President.
Though the President has not outlined how the plan will be funded, he pledged it would be “fully paid for. It will not add to our deficit over time. And we are going to work with Congress to see to that.” He also reiterated the pledge to develop a national infrastructure bank that can leverage federal dollars and focus on the smartest investments. And he strongly supported the idea of consolidating the dozens of federal programs responsible for managing and funding our nation’s infrastructure. “We’ve got to focus more on competition and innovation; less on shortsighted political priorities, and more on our national economic priorities,” he said. Learn more about the President's plan in this Washington Post interview with Senior White House Advisor Valerie Jarrett:
When I talk to MPC’s Executive Advisors and Board members, I’m struck by how ready they are to support a significant infrastructure package, realizing it will deliver a healthy return on investment. And the $7.3 billion congestion tax we residents of Chicagoland pay each year delivers … nothing.
This bold thinking was echoed repeatedly Wednesday morning at the launch of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s (CMAP) GO TO 2040 plan for northeastern Illinois, the region’s first comprehensive plan since Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago. Speakers, including Mayor Richard M. Daley and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and MPC Board members George Ranney and Jesse Ruiz, framed the plan as our marching orders, our roadmap for making this great region even better through innovation-based economic development and smarter, more coordinated investments that create livable communities. Sen. Durbin made the plan’s impact crystal clear, saying, “When the time comes for the next federal transp. funding bill, GO TO 2040 ought to be the backbone for this region's plan.”
My colleagues and I at MPC are equally bullish about the tangible results that will flow from working together to implement the plan. Good news came quickly yesterday with the awarding of a $4.25 million federal grant to CMAP to assist local communities. We’ll be coordinating with CMAP on multiple implementation opportunities, from retail development along Madison Street on the Near West Side, to new villages along the Metra Southeast extension in South Cook County, to a water supply initiative in Aurora and surrounding communities. Many of these projects can benefit from a $50 billion interim federal transportation package that could see action in the coming months. Sounds like a full plate to me!