Illinois needs investment plan for capital funding - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Illinois needs investment plan for capital funding

As Springfield lawmakers debate revenue options for a new state capital package, parallel discussions are underway about a fresh, objective approach to selecting transportation projects

(Chicago) … Discussion in Springfield is heating up about a long-overdue state capital investment plan to maintain and expand Illinois’ built environment and complement the job-creation goals of the federal stimulus package. The Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC), a longtime advocate for renewed state capital investment, is encouraged by Gov. Pat Quinn’s leadership, and strongly supports House bill 2359 recently introduced this week by Ill. Rep. Kathy Ryg (D-Vernon Hills) that would fundamentally change how the state selects transportation projects for funding.

The Transportation Investment Accountability Act is about:

Accountability: Given Illinois’ fiscal state, it is critical to reap the highest value for every taxpayer dollar spent. This bill would do so by requiring all projects vying for capital funding to be weighed against criteria that are based on statewide goals.

Transparency: A criteria-driven system will make it clearer to Illinois taxpayers why their tax dollars are being funneled toward a specific project.

Leveling the playing field: A more open and honest way of making capital investment decisions in Illinois means all communities’ projects would be measured against the same yardstick: the have-nots will have as good a chance to compete as the have-lots.

MPC recently issued a statement urging Illinois to begin taking this type of approach as it distributes federal stimulus funding. The urgent timeline for dispersing federal funding will make it impossible to achieve widespread reform, but a new state capital plan must be contingent upon it. 

Gov. Pat Quinn has begun discussing revenue options with state lawmakers and said he’d like to have a capital plan approved by April 3, 2009. Even with federal stimulus funding, Illinois will not be able to raise enough revenue to meet all of its transportation needs. For instance, the Regional Transportation Authority says metropolitan Chicago’s transit needs alone are $10 billion over the next five years. 

“Tough decisions will need to be made,” said Rep. Ryg. “We cannot afford to fund projects that do little to relieve congestion, spur economic development, or improve safety on the roads and rails. The Transportation Investment Accountability Act sets forth a process for prioritizing those projects that will provide taxpayers with the best return on their investment.” 

Perhaps nowhere in the nation are voters more distrustful of their government than in Illinois. A statewide, data-rich, outcomes-based approach to prioritizing infrastructure investments would help restore voter trust and mark a new era of transparency.

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, including 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 alone $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.” 

Read the Metropolitan Planning Council's Transportation Investment Accountability Act Fact Sheets:
Transportation Investment Accountability Act Fact Sheet #1
Transportation Investment Accountability Act Fact Sheet #2

For more information about the Transportation Investment Accountability Act, click here, or contact MPC Vice President Peter Skosey, at 312-863-6004 or pskosey@metroplanning.org.

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