States can make most of stimulus funding through investment strategies that target metropolitan regions - Metropolitan Planning Council

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States can make most of stimulus funding through investment strategies that target metropolitan regions

MPC urges Illinois and other states not to squander economic recovery funding through business-as-usual spending, but rather to allow metropolitan regions to create their own investment plans to jumpstart the U.S. economy

(Chicago) … As Congress debates the American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill, an $825 billion package that President Barack Obama has promised will put people to work and “retrofit America for a global economy,” the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) urges Illinois and other states to make the most of this unprecedented opportunity through investment strategies that target and empower metropolitan regions, which drive the U.S. economy.

The bill designates approximately $112 billion for infrastructure investments – a number that continues to shift as a result of ongoing negotiations – to repair and modernize the nation’s roads, bridges, sewers, and transit lines, and to move the country toward a more energy-efficient economy. If coordinated regionally, these projects not only will create jobs, but also will build more competitive, equitable and sustainable communities.

MPC encourages Illinois and other states to take the following approaches to ensure the right investments are made and the mistakes that led to this recession are not repeated or reinforced:

Target Metropolitan Regions

MPC recommends infrastructure dollars be funneled first to metropolitan regions, which account for 85 percent of U.S. gross domestic product and 80 percent of population. By focusing on repairing and preserving infrastructure near where most people live, the nation’s economy will reap the benefits of more jobs, reduced oil dependency, cleaner air and water, and expanded choices for shopping, schools and getting around.

For instance, in Illinois , the continued prosperity of metropolitan Chicago is vital to the entire state’s economic well-being. MPC supports a recent statement issued by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), which called for Chicagoland to receive 75 percent of Illinois ’ stimulus funds for infrastructure, in alignment with the 80 percent this region contributes to the state’s GDP.

Regions also should have more of a say in how their portion of the dollars is spent. In Illinois, money should flow through the 14 metropolitan planning organizations, such as CMAP, which represent the vast majority of the state’s residents. These agencies represent local communities and not only can direct funding to regionally significant projects, but also ensure that stimulus funds designated for transportation, housing, and environmental initiatives are implemented in a coordinated, rather than a conflicting, fashion.

Create Investment Strategies

The economic recovery package must do more than begin to restore the nation’s once-envied infrastructure network; it also must lay the groundwork for clear goals and criteria for future investments, such as the next federal surface transportation package.

President Obama has referenced the lack of transparency in infrastructure decision-making as a key factor driving “a devastating loss of trust and confidence in our economy, our financial markets, and our government.” By measuring each project not only by how many jobs it creates, but also by whether it achieves national goals, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, conserving water supplies, and curbing traffic congestion, states and regions can ensure they are investing in the most cost-effective plans.

The need for such a process is driven by economic necessity: the proposed stimulus funding cannot possibly meet all of the nation’s infrastructure needs, and tough decisions will need to be made. For instance, the package designates $2 billion to modernize existing transit systems, while the national repair backlog is nearly $50 billion. According to the Regional Transportation Authority, Illinois alone has $675 million in transit projects ready to go within the next six months.

Illinois could especially benefit from a criteria-based approach. P erhaps nowhere in the nation are voters more distrustful of their government than in this state, where changes in leadership appear imminent. A statewide, data-rich, outcome-based approach to prioritizing infrastructure investments (in tandem with federal criteria) would help restore voter trust, as well as ensure taxpayer dollars go to projects that achieve statewide goals. The state has not passed a capital investment plan since 1999, and a criteria-based selection process would empower regions to identify significant projects and mark a new era of transparency.


In his Inaugural address, President Obama rightly stated, “ The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works …” While the economic recovery package cannot possibly meet all of the nation’s infrastructure needs, it can begin the difficult task. States must take this opportunity to do the necessary work of shaping a new infrastructure investment strategy based on achieving national goals befitting this “new era of responsibility.”

The work will not be easy. It will require shifting mindsets – or, as President Obama put it “a recognition … that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world.”

Rather than act rashly in this time of economic crisis, we must make rational decisions that not only address our current economic crisis, but also begin to shape a stronger national economy, and a government that works.


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For more than 85 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has partnered with communities, businesses, and governments to unleash the greatness of the Chicago region. We believe that every neighborhood has promise, every community should be heard, and every person can thrive. To tackle the toughest urban planning and development challenges, we create collaborations that change perceptions, conversations—and the status quo. Read more about our work »

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