Quinn Capital Plan Needs an Overhaul to Meet Illinois' Transportation Challenges - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Quinn Capital Plan Needs an Overhaul to Meet Illinois' Transportation Challenges

Chicago, IL – In a teleconference with reporters today, transportation advocates warned Gov. Pat Quinn’s capital investment proposal is not adequate to meet the needs of Illinois’ transportation system.

Touted as a $5 billion investment in statewide transit needs over five years, the proposal actually provides only $1.5 billion in new state money over five years. Adjusted for inflation, this is half the investment made in 1999 by Illinois FIRST, the last state capital plan. The proposal will not even cover the basic maintenance and repair needs of metropolitan Chicago’s transit network, a much-needed $1 billion-a-year investment.

“When you consider the state hasn’t provided a dime of transit capital funding for five years, it’s not a surprise to discover commuters struggling with broken down buses and slow train service,” said Brian Imus, director, Illinois PIRG (Public Interest Research Group). “Unfortunately the capital plan proposed in Springfield isn’t enough to even keep the current infrastructure in its current condition, much less make the investment needed to meet growing demand.”

In Northeastern Illinois alone, Chicago Transit Authority, Metra and Pace have identified an unmet need in capital funding of $10 billion over the next five years to enhance and expand the network.

"Gov. Quinn has said he wants a sound transportation capital program, but his budget proposal offers very little new state funding to accomplish it.  New revenue is needed, including raising the motor fuel tax that has not changed since 1990.  But new revenues must be accompanied by reforms that open up the process to the public and ensure that each investment is well-planned and thoroughly evaluated," said Jim LaBelle, vice president, Chicago Metropolis 2020. "Let's hope Gov. Quinn's capital plan announced last week is the starting point, rather than the end, for a debate on these issues."

The Governor’s proposed capital plan contains no funding for high-speed rail, a top priority of the Obama Administration. By comparison, Illinois First included $250 million for passenger rail improvements.

While underscoring the need for a larger capital plan to bring roads, bridges and transit systems into a state of good repair, the group called for reforming how capital dollars are spent. The Transportation Investment Accountability Act (HB 2359) would fundamentally change how the state selects transportation projects for funding, tying investment decisions to criteria based on statewide goals, such as relieving congestion, spurring economic development, and improving safety on the roads and rails.

“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, vice president, Metropolitan Planning Council. “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.”

The capital plan comes on the heels of the stimulus funding for transportation provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which falls far short in providing dollars for transit.

“The Quinn administration not only failed to prioritize 21st Century transportation in his capital plan, but has so far failed to use any of the Surface Transportation Program dollars provided under the Obama stimulus plan for transit,” said Imus. “Illinois received nearly $1 billion in stimulus dollars in the Surface Transportation Program. IDOT should use some of that money for transit, not just roads.”

The federal stimulus bill contains $8 billion in competitive grants to states to expand and improve passenger rail service. While state matches are not formally required, demonstrating a commitment to these projects will be needed to successfully compete for these funds. Federal dollars are unlikely to be available to meet all of the state’s rail plans, such as new rail service to the Quad Cities and Rockford. 

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