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Talking Transit: MPC supports HB1549, the Merit Based Transportation Investments in Illinois Act

The Chicago region committed to create and advance a coordinated regional plan based on evaluation measures to grow the economy and quality of life.The GOTO 2040 Plan is comprehensive, pragmatic and unprecedented in its public input and transparency.

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Did you Know?  Current Illinois state law does not require transportation spending to be guided by metrics such as economic impact.

Strategically investing in infrastructure projects is the ticket to economic growth. In fact, every dollar communities invest in public transportation generates approximately $4 in economic returns, resulting in thousands more jobs, better bottom lines for businesses, and less time commuters spend sitting in gridlocked traffic. Yet state and federal resources are falling far short of what’s needed to bring our existing roads and railways to a state of good repair – much less expand them to serve a growing regional population. Because the federal fuel tax has not increased since 1993, it has lost significant purchasing power, requiring $55 billion in General Fund bailout dollars to the bankrupt Highway Trust Fund over the past five years.

“We’ve run out of money, it’s time to start thinking”

Modernizing our aging infrastructure is critically important to our state’s economic prosperity. Illinois needs a new philosophy for investing in necessary infrastructure. The Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) strongly believes Illinois should implement a merit-based funding approach to transportation investments.  Precisely because there is a limited supply of dollars, we must evaluate potential transportation investments based on their ability to reduce hours spent in traffic, generate economic development, curb emissions, and help people more easily travel from where they live to jobs and destinations, similar to the federal TIGER competitive grant program. Illinois state law, however, does not require transportation spending to be guided by broad based goals or an objective method of ranking projects according to merit-based criteria, such as economic impact or moving the most people. Project selection occurs with little opportunity for public scrutiny and does not encourage regional collaboration. 

MPC supports the Merit Based Transportation Investments in Illinois Act, HB 1549, sponsored by Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook). HB 1549 requires implementing merit-based budgeting for all potential transportation investments in Illinois by 2015. It isasmart, objective approach to transportation spending that advances Gov. Patrick Quinn’s Budgeting for Results approach to state investments. The bill charges the Illinois Dept. of Transportation (IDOT) with convening a state technical advisory group to determine how to tie a merit-based evaluation process to funding decisions. Group members will include staff from IDOT, the state’s 14 Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), and other appropriate stakeholders. Evaluation measures include:

  • Improving access and mobility for users;
  • Supporting multi-modal choices;
  • Fostering safety;
  • Coordinating current long-range plans;
  • Improving the environment;
  • Improving the movement of people; and
  • Fostering economic development

Feds moving to merit-based investments

This approach also would help the state meet new federal goals under the current transportation authorization, MAP-21. For the first time ever the law requires the establishment of national goals, performance measures, and accountability in planning and funding for all federal transportation dollars. Measures include freight movement, emissions, bridge conditions, and congestion. Many in Congress are calling for even stronger criteria in the next federal authorization. States with a prioritization process in place will be at a significant advantage for leveraging federal dollars. One example of such a state, the North Carolina Dept. of Transportation (NCDOT), has a scoring process to evaluate which transportation projects to fund based on mobility, increasing economic competitiveness, and improving safety.  NCDOT also performs a cost/benefit analysis and receives input from local Metropolitan Planning Organizations as part of each project’s score. NCDOT has an online calculator tool that allows the public to understand the tradeoffs (mobility, safety, health) of individual investment decisions and compare the tradeoffs of investment decisions, bringing accountability and transparency to taxpayers.

This type of investment process is proven to work in Illinois. For example, the seven counties and 284 communities that make up the Chicago Metropolitan Agency of Planning (CMAP) came together and developed a strategic plan, GO TO 2040, to meet the region’s rapid growth and demands, many of which exceed available revenues. Working together, the region set clearly defined strategies to influence future growth policies. The region compared a “business as usual” scenario to three others, enabling CMAP to provide several different options to the communities affected by the plan to show how each would impact taxes, infrastructure investments, congestion, household costs, and gross regional project. Aspects of the three alternatives were combined to develop the regional long-range plan, GO TO 2040, that will drive investments.

Given Illinois’ fiscal state, it is critical to reap the highest value for every taxpayer dollar spent. HB1549 would do this by requiring all projects vying for funding to be weighed against criteria based on statewide goals. HB1549’s merit-based approach also brings accountability and transparency because a statewide, data-rich, outcomes-based approach to prioritizing infrastructure investments makes it clear to Illinois taxpayers why their dollars are funneled toward a specific project. This new, more open and honest way of making capital investment decisions in Illinois means all communities’ projects will be measured against the same yardstick: The “have-nots” will have just as good a chance to compete as the “have-lots.” 

Illinois simply cannot afford to fund projects that do not advance multiple goals. Strategically investing precious tax dollars rather than spending them will improve quality of life, clean the air, and generate much-needed economic development. 

Job number one in Springfield

The pension crisis is the number one issue threatening to impede our state’s growth.  Illinois already has elevated borrowing costs and the lowest credit rating of any state because of the massive pension liability. MPC supports pension reform legislation such as SB35 and HB98 sponsored by State Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) and Rep. Nekritz, (D-Northbrook), as a long-term solution to the state's pension funding crisis. Getting Illinois on sound financial footing is critically important, not only to run state government day-to-day, but also for a strong economy that attracts businesses and supports healthy communities. 

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