Opening windows – and doors – to Illinois’ capital funding system: A better way to invest in surface transportation infrastructure - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Opening windows – and doors – to Illinois’ capital funding system: A better way to invest in surface transportation infrastructure

From Texas to Minnesota, states are finding solutions to their budget and transportation woes by developing accountable and transparent investment systems to evaluate and select capital surface transportation projects

Almost every state across the nation, including Illinois, grew accustomed to spending billions of dollars on transportation infrastructure over the last half century. New highways, bridges, train lines, and bike trails seemed to appear every year. But the times are changing. Bills for maintaining what states have already built are piling up, and money is getting tighter. So state governments are getting smarter about how they invest in infrastructure.

From Texas to Minnesota , states are finding solutions to their budget and transportation woes by developing accountable and transparent investment systems to evaluate and select surface transportation projects. These investment selection systems, focused on outcomes, are essentially a business plan for roads, bridges, transit and other infrastructure. They open windows – and doors! – to the process for towns, cities, and businesses throughout the state by shedding light on a capital project selection system. Illinois may be the next state to embrace this new way of doing business. Sen. Susan Garrett (D-Highwood) and Reps. David Miller (D-Dolton) and Michael Tryon (R-Crystal Lake) have proposed the Illinois Capital Investment Accountability Act (SB 1582, HB 801), which would use the best practices from other states to develop its own project prioritization system.

Many states – including Missouri, Ohio, Wisconsin, Texas, Alaska, Washington , Oregon, California, Utah, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Michigan and Minnesota – and hundreds of regional planning agencies already use a standardized project process to streamline capital investment decision-making. These processes, and the laws that prescribe them, vary considerably, from multi-page descriptions of algorithms to one-sentence mandates. They usually involve a system of numerical scoring for each project, whether through a weighted criteria, benefit-cost analysis, or cost-effectiveness analysis. Many of the systems are run by the state departments of transportation while others are overseen by special statewide and/or regional bodies. And all involve the state legislature in some significant way. For example, Missouri prioritizes projects at the regional level and then again at the state level, using weighted qualitative and quantitative criteria. The Washington State Department of Transportation uses a benefit-cost ratio to determine the order and rank of highway investments.

The proposed Illinois Capital Accountability Act draws on the best components of these systems from around the nation. The Act identifies a vision for Illinois ’ transportation system and articulates a set of goals that offer a clear, transparent direction for transportation investments. And rather than prescribing the exact system of project evaluation, like some other states, it authorizes state and regional bodies to define the exact system, with some guidance from the legislation and with extensive public involvement. The goal is to create a single list of prioritized projects – for all types of surface transportation – for the entire state of Illinois . This list would be submitted to the General Assembly and Governor for approval and funding.

At its root, the proposed act is a simple idea: develop a single prioritized list of surface transportation projects for the entire state of Illinois , and make it more clear how that list came to be. Of course, changing the way the state does businesses – particularly when it involves opening a once-hidden process to the public – is no easy job. Expect a lot of debate in 2007.

Click here to read the proposed Illinois Capital Accountability Act.

Click here to read the fact sheet on the Illinois Capital Accountability Act.

Click here to read an overview of the Illinois Capital Accountability Act.

Click here to read about the prioritization methodology for the Illinois Capital Accountability Act.

Click here to compare Illinois ’ current prioritization process to other states practices.

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