Over Labor Day weekend, President Obama outlined his $50-billion plan to rebuild the nation’s crumbling transportation infrastructure and create jobs. In his remarks, the President went beyond the near-term need for jobs to suggest a new investment strategy that eschews earmarks in favor of high-impact transportation projects that link homes and job centers, reduce our dependence on oil, and save families money.
Of course, most people focused on the $50 billion, triggering yet another round of debates about the wisdom and impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Each of us can do our own analysis of how the federal and state governments have been performing through two user-friendly web sites created by the State of Illinois and federal government to allow the public to search for and map specific projects and see where stimulus funding is going: www.recovery.gov and www.recovery.illinois.gov.
We also can benefit from assessments and recommendations issued independently, such as the Regional Review of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for Northeastern Illinois, issued by the Regional ARRA Coordinating Council, of which MPC is a part. The latter offers status reports on select ARRA programs as well as recommendations to ensure these and future resources contribute to a strong metropolitan region that can weather future economic storms. Among these recommendations: greater coordination – between the public and private sectors, as well as among various government agencies that tend to speak different languages and serve different masters -- dramatically increases the effectiveness of investments.
Whether the President’s $50 billion is the next big thing or not, what’s important moving forward is that we apply these lessons learned at all levels of government, to support more coordinated investments. By year’s end, the Illinois State Linkage Group is due to release a report on how our state government can better align the work of various agencies do just that – and to reinforce at the state level the goals of northeastern Illinois’ GO TO 2040 regional plan and the federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities.
Chicagoland isn’t alone in starting to apply lessons learned. Next month in Denver, I’m moderating a panel at a national conference on strategies to support transportation investments that simultaneously improve local housing affordability. In preparation, I’ve been reviewing this national scan of transit programs that have, indeed, encouraged affordable housing. It’s a fantastic round-up, but I’m sure there are other examples out there. If you know of any – especially examples that illustrate how interagency partnerships at the state and local levels can help support these types of investments – shoot me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.