Legislation to ensure transportation investments benefit public, increase equity approved by Illinois Senate - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Legislation to ensure transportation investments benefit public, increase equity approved by Illinois Senate

SPRINGFIELD, ILL. (June 1, 2021) -- HB253, which will establish more transparent and equitable investment practices for state infrastructure expenditures, was approved yesterday by the Illinois Senate. Sponsored in the Senate by Ill. Sen. Ram Villivalam (D-Chicago) and in the House by Ill. Rep. Kam Buckner (D-Chicago), the bill was approved in the House April 22 and will now go to Gov. Pritzker’s desk for his signature. 

“Illinois taxpayers deserve a system for selecting transportation and infrastructure projects that is transparent, data driven, and equitable. I applaud my Senate colleagues for voting in favor of shining more sunlight on this process to ensure the public can better understand why projects are selected, and to select projects that  do the greatest good for Illinoisans,” said Sen. Villivalam.

The passage of a state capital plan in 2019 has infused billions of dollars in capital funding into the state’s core transportation infrastructure, including roads, bridges, rail and trails. However, Illinois’ transportation outcomes show troubling trends: an increase in traffic crashes, particularly involving pedestrians, and people struggling to access jobs and services. 

This legislation would require the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) to use performance metrics in evaluating projects. Known as performance-based planning, this process uses data to compare proposed infrastructure projects and identify those that achieve the greatest transportation outcomes. 

“Whether we want to improve a community’s main street or enhance a train station, this proposal would ensure we use data-driven criteria to achieve both excellence and equity with every dollar spent,” said Ill. Rep. Buckner. 

IDOT has implemented successful reforms to some of its programs in the recent past.  For example, IDOT reformed its State Planning and Research program by opening it up to a public call for projects and publishing the criteria it uses to evaluate projects.  The state also established a new way to rank and select projects when it received funding from a new freight program created by Congress in 2016. Lastly, the General Assembly included a legislative requirement to transparently evaluate and rank projects competing for the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program (ITEP), a joint federal-state program that provides funding for bicycle, pedestrian, and other projects that improve transportation. Transparent decision-making can promote access to jobs, improve safety, aid the environment, increase public health, advance equity, and offer multimodal choices. 

Performance-based planning is a best practice within the transportation industry, common in many states including Minnesota, Ohio, Kentucky, and Virginia. The Federal Highway Administration is strongly supportive of the practice.

“Illinois is on its way to joining the many other states both nationwide and in the Midwest that have already adopted performance-based programs (PBP),” said Mary Tyler, transportation policy analyst, Illinois Economic Policy Institute. “PBPs have become the industry-standard, and research shows that they provide transparency and ensure infrastructure spending addresses quantifiable public needs, like reducing congestion and crashes, promoting access to jobs, or improving air quality.”

Success looks different in different places. That’s why the legislation does not require IDOT to evaluate projects across the state the same way. Metrics will and should vary by geography.

“We want to make sure that every project is the best it can be at solving any given transportation problem in any part of the state, whether that is access to jobs, improved active transportation, or better freight connections,” said Audrey Wennink, director of transportation, Metropolitan Planning Council. “The beauty of performance metrics is that they help us to get the most benefit out of our public dollars.” 

Criteria also will help ensure transportation investments help achieve broader societal and economic benefits.  

“Requiring a performance-based process for selecting transportation projects is smart policy that for the first time in Illinois will ensure that taxpayer funded transportation investments consider emissions impacts, climate change resilience, and reduce disparities in transportation system performance,” said Matt Steffen, chief of staff, Illinois Environmental Council. “Once successfully implemented, this policy will result in cleaner air, more efficient project selection, and improved transportation access without additional costs to taxpayers or requiring new technologies.”

“Transportation investment is one of best tools Illinois has to attract and retain businesses to our state, but we can't know which projects produce the best benefits without measuring how these projects impact economic growth, improve access to jobs, or reduce the costs of transportation,” said Tom Kotarac, senior vice president, Transportation and Infrastructure, Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago.  

Liz Granger, Metropolitan Planning Council content strategy manager, egranger@metroplanning.org, 312-863-6019
Zach Braun, staff to Sen. Ram Villivalam, zbraun@senatedem.ilga.gov, 815-909-7389
Dulana Reese, chief of staff to Rep. Kam Buckner, Dulana@kambuckner.com, 601-606-5902

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