We all pay a steep price for the poor state of Illinois’ roads, rails and bridges. From missed appointments to higher delivery costs, our failure to invest in our transportation network is more than a frustration: It’s a drag on our economy and our everyday lives. Illinois drivers spend an extra $3.7 billion a year on repair bills due to poor road conditions, and Illinois train commuters suffer through 800,000 hours of delays annually due to inadequate maintenance.
The Accelerate Illinois campaign—which MPC is spearheading with partners including AARP, Active Transportation Alliance and Transportation for Illinois Coalition—highlights the transportation woes that we all face daily, spurring both the public and legislators to action.
The problem is straightforward: Federal and state funding for transportation is declining, but the demand for our transportation network has never been greater. As MPC explores new revenue options, we are simultaneously advocating for investment policies that prioritize projects that reduce hours spent in traffic, curb emissions, connect affordable homes and jobs, spur economic development and improve safety.
The state of transportation funding
The federal and Illinois motor fuel taxes that fund transportation have been fixed at 18.4 and 19 cents per gallon, respectively, since the early 1990s. With the effects of inflation and the increasing fuel efficiency of vehicles, gas taxes are no longer sufficient to maintain our current transportation assets, much less fund expansion. The federal Highway Trust Fund, which also funds mass transit, has required $50 billion in general fund bailouts over the past five years because revenues from the federal motor fuel taxes simply can’t keep up with the need.
Illinois fuel tax revenues declining
In Illinois, the situation has created a huge shortfall: Per-capita fuel tax revenues have declined by more than a third since the early 1990s, even as construction costs have more than doubled because of inflation. The prices of bread, eggs or electricity have gone up with inflation, but our gas tax hasn’t. To keep Northeastern Illinois’ transportation system in a state of good repair and accomplish the modest enhancements identified in our regional GO TO 2040 plan, the shortfall based on current revenue sources reaches $43.5 billion. We need to close that gap.
Both the Illinois and federal governments need new, reliable revenue sources to fund the transportation improvements that commuters and employers desperately need. Any funding solution must be linked with clear selection criteria and performance measures that target investments to advance coordinated regional goals and a strong national vision. Whether it’s a new Bus Rapid Transit line, managed expressway lane or bike route, a transportation asset that performs well at multiple levels—reducing congestion, curbing air pollution, connecting people to vital destinations, sparking economic development—is the sort of responsible, performance-based investment that should be prioritized.
With both federal (MAP-21) and state (Illinois Jobs Now) transportation spending legislation expiring in 2015, MPC is advocating for a number of policy changes to reform the way we bring in and spend transportation dollars.
An effective transportation asset does more than simply move people or goods: It accelerates economic growth. Research shows that every $1 invested in public transit generates about $4 of economic returns. Conversely, an underperforming transportation system hobbles the economy: Traffic congestion costs our region at least $7.3 billion dollars annually.
To ensure we receive the maximum return on investments, state and federal transportation funding should prioritize infrastructure that meets performance-based criteria. When decision makers are more accountable and the decision-making process is more transparent, taxpayers know where their dollars are being invested and are more likely to support new revenue sources. A performance-based approach also would give Illinois an advantage over other states in pursuing competitive federal funding.