Special Series: Make or Break – Year One of the Regional Planning Board - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Special Series: Make or Break – Year One of the Regional Planning Board

This special series analyzes the issues the Regional Planning Board must tackle in the months ahead. The focus of this issue is the tangled web of plans in Chicagoland.

For years, neighboring communities have had to compete with each other to attract the most tax dollars, often at the expense of local quality of life, economic development, school excellence, personal and social health, and basic needs like water and sewage. While some competition among municipalities is healthy, it’s become increasingly clear that any local victories are fleeting; we’re racing our neighbors to the bottom as long as we allow our region to fragment and decay. Thankfully, Chicagoland has an historic opportunity to unite and regain our competitive edge through the development of a strong Regional Planning Board. The state legislature has given the board just one year to develop a plan for success. This series, “Make or Break – Year One of the Regional Planning Board,” analyzes the issues the board must tackle in the months ahead.

Untangling the Web of Plans

Recently, there has been an explosion of plans in the region, from the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission’s (NIPC) “2040 Regional Framework Plan” to the Chicago Area Transportation Study’s (CATS) “Regional Transportation Plan.” While the plethora of plans may appear to be a big step in the right direction, the public reaction to the release of the Ill. Dept. of Transportation’s (IDOT) State Transportation Plan suggests that no one is yet convinced that the recent harvest of plans is necessarily producing coordinated results. The new Regional Planning Board, which was created in August 2005 and must submit an action plan to the state legislature by September 2006, is going to have to reconcile all of these plans if it is going to succeed in moving our region forward.

The Regional Planning Board will need to untangle the web of plans to figure out how it will fit into the lines of authority, including the process for determining which projects will receive state and federal funding. The Metropolitan Planning Council recommends the Board work closely with the agencies and municipalities to make sure that their plans are based on measurable goals and systems of accountability.

· Issue: Authority

At IDOT's public meeting on its State Transportation Plan, a member of the audience asked how the plan intersects with the CATS “Regional Transportation Plan.” Specifically, how does IDOT's plan relate to the 2030 regional transportation plan and the plans of other metropolitan planning organizations in Illinois? Is the agency committed to following a regional transportation plan where metropolitan planning organizations exist in the state? These same questions can also be asked of the relationship of NIPC's plan with Regional Transportation Authority’s (RTA) plan, and many other combinations of agencies and plans.

Regional Planning Board Response

The Regional Planning Board needs to decide how to untangle this web of plans, and how to spin the thread into a cohesive fabric with clear lines of authority. Should one entity have the power to coordinate, review, and approve or veto all plans and recommended projects? Who should oversee the administration of the Illinois Local Planning Technical Assistance Act?

· Issue: Funding

The tangled web of authority tying together the numerous plans also leads to wasteful spending and creates long term funding obligations. Despite federal aid, Illinois has long struggled to find money to repair current infrastructure; the state simply can’t afford to continue to make bad choices about capital projects. Illinois FIRST, the state’s last capital funding package, expired in 2004; now municipalities and agencies are struggling to find the money they need in order to receive federal funding for new projects.

Regional Planning Board Response

The Regional Planning Board will need to decide what the funding process should look like, for both the next state package and future federal funding bills. Should one entity control all funding decisions and advocate on their behalf? Should legislative earmarks be banned? Through what path should federal funding flow?

· Issue: Substance

Managing growth and change in our communities is an art that requires the willingness and fortitude to be creative, honest, and practical. Our region’s agencies and municipalities are responsible for delivering solutions to our growth challenges that work; this requires constant, honest evaluation and innovation.

Regional Planning Board Response

The Regional Planning Board should adopt a system of measurable goals and evaluations for agencies and municipalities to use in their plans. Such measurable goals will make it clear to the public that they are committed to continuously improving the service they delivery to achieve the vision set by the Board.

For example, IDOT's State Transportation Plan should list output-based, numeric goals, and specify a system of quantifiable measures to determine whether the agency has met its goals. The department’s goals for highway safety include “to reduce the statewide fatality rate … from the 2003 level of 1.37 to 1.0 by Jan. 1, 2008.” This is an output-based, quantifiable goal that provides the agency—and the public—a benchmark against which to measure its work. The agency should use this same type of goal setting for as many other sections of this plan as possible. This includes articulating goals like “reduce car congestion on interstates by X% by 200Y” or “convert Z% of personal car trips on arterials to public transportation trips by 200Y.”


Click here to read joint comments from Chicago Metropolis 2020 and the Metropolitan Planning Council on the Illinois Department of Transportation’s State Transportation Plan .

Click here to read Business Leaders for Transportation’s testimony on the Regional Transportation Authority’s 2006 Budget .

The Regional Planning Board is now online! Click here to access its new Web site.

Click here to view the full "Make or Break - Year One of the Regional Planning Board" series.

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