Business Leaders for Transportation Testimony to the U.S. Senate Field Hearing on Surface Transportation - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Business Leaders for Transportation Testimony to the U.S. Senate Field Hearing on Surface Transportation

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Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Chair

Senate Committee on Environment And Public Works

Dirksen Federal Building

Testimony Submitted By Business Leaders For Transportation

Business Leaders for Transportation was formed in 1997 to act as a collective voice for Chicago-area employers on policy and funding issues concerning this region’s surface transportation network. Led by the Metropolitan Planning Council, Chicago Metropolis 2020 and the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, it is a growing coalition of more than 100 business organizations representing more than 12,000 regional employers.

Business Leaders understands that the economic competitiveness of the Chicago metropolitan region depends on continuing to function efficiently as the crossroads for our nation’s highway and rail system. The coalition has been a strong advocate for increased investment and innovation in Northeastern Illinois’ transportation network.

New challenges confront us, as discussions loom on the reauthorization of the current federal transportation bill. This region is plagued by congestion, a lack of transportation alternatives in growing suburban areas, and aged and outdated infrastructure, all which constitute high priorities in the next federal transportation legislation. By working closely with a strong network of government transportation professionals, business and civic groups, Business Leaders is building regional consensus on policies that should be addressed in the next transportation bill.

Unlike its 1991 predecessor, TEA-21 replaced a needs-based formula with one that distributed money to the 50 states by a predetermined percentage; Illinois’ increase was only 29 percent, in comparison to a 40 percent increase nationwide. This shift amounted to a $600 million loss to Illinois over the course of the six-year program, while congestion continues to be third worst in the nation and our interstates, highways and local roads are overburdened by an exponential growth in traffic. Although TEA-21 chipped away at the list of projects necessary to alleviate congestion, under this new funding formula Illinois actually fared worse than other Midwest states despite the fact that freeway congestion is 12 percent higher here than the national average and 20 percent higher than neighboring states. In addition, 40 percent of daily traffic is congested and the 2000 Census shows that in five of the six counties, commute times increased by more than 10 percent over the past decade. The mismatch between the location of jobs and housing directly fuels increased congestion as more and more employees have to travel via automobile to get to work because transit is not a viable option. Simply put, longer commutes result in more traffic for everyone, which worsens air quality and greatly diminishes our quality of life.

Through Illinois FIRST, our state infrastructure-funding program, the state has been able to repair portions of its outdated infrastructure and provide the match for federal funds. This program, like the federal transportation bill, will soon expire, leaving many highways and bridges still in need of repair and numerous unfunded capital needs for the region’s transit system. Collectively, the region’s three public transportation service providers are at least $3 billion short of funding for needed improvements to preserve transit infrastructure; this does not include resources for system expansion.

Current funding is not fixing the problem. A business as usual approach to traffic gridlock is hurting our economic competitiveness and livability. Business Leaders calls most urgently for a return to a needs-based funding formula, so that regions like northeastern Illinois — with its rapidly growing population of transit users, aging and clogged highway network, and position as the hub of the intermodal freight industry — get the help they need to give people transportation choices and make traffic flow more smoothly.

The opportunity to address these issues is now! Business Leaders’ consensus agenda is contained in a document entitled, Getting the Chicago Region Moving: A Coordinated Agenda for the Federal Transportation Debate and makes the following specific funding recommendations:

  • Highways: At the crossroads of the nation, northeastern Illinois’ highway system is critical to its economic prosperity, but 80 percent of that system is over 30 years old. The 2003 bill should re-evaluate the federal funding structure, which shortchanges densely populated areas, so that it places greater value on projects of national significance;
  • Transit: The Chicago region boasts the second largest transit network in the nation. As Chicago’s Loop requires expanded transit options to support its growth and suburbs with dramatic population growth look for better solutions to traffic congestion, funding for transit projects must be increased for both rehabilitation and expansion;
  • Freight: The Chicago region is the world’s third largest intermodal port, but our outdated railyards and highways are not equipped for ever-expanding volumes of freight traffic. The inadequacies of Chicago’s freight network have slowed the movement of freight traffic across the region to less than 15 m.p.h. Freight infrastructure improvements must be added to the next legislation, with funding expanded and directed toward increased track and yard capacity, grade crossing separations and joint-use corridors with broad, public benefits.
  • Land Use: All transportation projects should be evaluated within the framework of a regional land-use plan, to maximize the impact of limited resources and improve air and water quality.

Business Leaders for Transportation recognizes that the metropolitan Chicago region has complex infrastructure needs. With the federal transportation package due to expire on Sept. 30, 2003, we must build on the foundation laid by prior transportation bills to meet the continuing needs of transit, freight and roadways in northeastern Illinois and to provide a truly multi-modal transportation system.

The reauthorization of TEA-21 must take a closer look at the surface transportation issues that plague metropolitan Chicago. Our region must have meaningful input to ensure that the transportation infrastructure needs of this critical national crossroads area are met. The next bill must be based on policies that coordinate land-use and transportation planning; promote transportation alternatives and encourage people to live near employment centers; improve and enhance our overall quality of life; and support the growth of our economy.

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