The Illinois General Assembly passed a “mini capital” program during the last week of March; the program only accounts for a portion of Gov. Quinn’s larger, $26 billion proposal, and did not include reforms for selecting transportation investments. MPC continues to push for these reforms.
*HB 2359 has been reintroduced as HB 4590 by State Rep Elaine Nekritz (D-Des Plaines) 10/21/09
A bill that would reform the way Illinois selects transportation projects for capital funding is gaining traction with Illinois lawmakers and the media.
The Transportation Investment Accountability Act (HB 2359), which MPC strongly supports, would tie transportation investment decisions to criteria based on statewide goals, such as relieving congestion, spurring economic development, and improving safety on the roads and rails. A criteria-based approach would help ensure Illinois infrastructure projects provide the greatest return on investment.
In their first joint public appearance, at an MPC legislative forum on March 20, sponsored by ComEd and Mayer Brown, Ill. Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) and Ill. Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) voiced their support for reform. (Visit the Chicago Public Radio’s Chicago Amplified archives to listen to Cullerton and Radogno’s remarks on the capital plan, and other top legislative priorities. If you live in Chicago, you can watch the event in its entirety by tuning in to CAN-TV, Channel 21, on Sunday, April 26, at 11:30 a.m.; or Channel 19 on Tuesday, April 28, at 8 a.m.) Sponsored by Ill. Rep. Kathy Ryg (D-Vernon Hills), HB2359 also garnered support in recent weeks from the editorial boards of the Chicago Tribune and the State Journal-Register in Springfield, Ill.
At MPC’s forum, both senators recognized the change in leadership in Springfield has brought a renewed sense of hope and cooperation – a welcome opportunity to breach the political logjam that has impeded progress on key issues such as capital plan over the past several years.
At the forum, Cullerton said HB 2359 should be on the table because its goal is to determine a “smarter way for us to decide how we prioritize our spending.” He added he supports the idea that metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) play a role in selecting projects for state capital funding. “I think it’s a very good idea, and I look forward to working with you,” Cullerton told the crowd, which included MPC supporters, transportation advocates, and business leaders.
Radogno also acknowledged that better planning and greater efficiencies in all areas of state government, including transportation funding, are needed.
“I think there are areas in state government where we can deliver services … more efficiently and more cost-effectively, and we need to spend some real focus there. Part of that will involve planning.” “I very much favor the approach that’s embodied in that bill, and I think it’s one that we need to extend not just to transportation projects, but to other kinds of projects,” said Radogno, for example local sewer and water projects.
Radogno said there is widespread support in Springfield for a new state capital plan. “If there’s anything I think there’s consensus on in Springfield right now it’s getting the capital bill. We all know that, having not had one in 10 years, we have a lot of needs ...” She added Republicans are pushing for a constitutional amendment to stop diverting money from the road fund.
The Illinois General Assembly passed a “mini capital” program during the last week of March; the program only accounts for a portion of Gov. Quinn’s larger, $26 billion proposal, and did not include reforms for selecting transportation investments.
MPC continues to push for these reforms and supports the governor’s proposal to increase user fees – for driver’s licenses, vehicle registration, and vehicle title transfers – to help fund the broader capital bill. However, it is clear that more is needed to ensure adequate, long-term investments can be made to maintain and expand Illinois’ roads, bridges, and transit lines.
At MPC’s forum, Sen. Cullerton encouraged his fellow lawmakers to consider raising the motor fuel tax, which hasn’t been raised in over 20 years. A 16 or 17 cent increase would pay for the entire road program, according to Cullerton.
Without a prioritization process, Illinois will be at a competitive disadvantage. The current round of federal surface transportation funding, known as SAFETEA-LU, expires in 2009. Congress has indicated that in the next iteration of this bill, it will reward states that employ an objective prioritization process. Right now, 17 other states have some form of rating system for transportation projects, many of them in the Midwest, such as Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin.
“If Illinois is perceived as wasting its share on insignificant projects, while neighboring states can show a high return, we stand to lose out on federal transportation dollars in the future,” said Peter Skosey, MPC vice president. “Reduced investment in our transportation infrastructure, which is among the region’s greatest assets, would weaken Illinois’ status as the nation’s transportation hub, cause an increase in congestion that already costs northeastern Illinois $7.3 billion a year, and make us less attractive to the transportation industry and other companies reliant on safe and efficient roads and rail lines.”
View photos of the March 20 Legislative Forum, "Making Sense of Springfield" on MPC's flickr page.
Read MPC's testimony at the House transportation infrastructure hearings, which outlines the need for an accountable and transparent system to fund transportation capital projects.