MPC concerned about proposed Outer Belt Highway - Metropolitan Planning Council

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MPC concerned about proposed Outer Belt Highway

MPC testified at an IDOT public meeting on the proposed Outer Belt Expressway, and offered a set of criteria for future transportation investment.

Thank you for this opportunity to express the position of the Metropolitan Planning Council on the proposed Outer Belt Expressway.  My name is Karyn Romano and I am transportation director for the Metropolitan Planning Council, or MPC. 

MPC is a nonprofit, non-partisan group of business and civic leaders committed to serving the public interest through the promotion and implementation of sensible planning and development policies necessary for a world-class Chicago region. Founded in 1934, MPC conducts policy analysis, outreach and advocacy in partnership with public officials and community leaders to improve equity of opportunity and quality of life throughout metropolitan Chicago.

MPC has serious concerns regarding a proposed Outer Belt Highway, which would be built through largely agricultural land in Kendall and Kane Counties. 

Based on the limited information made available to the public, the Outer Belt Highway does not meet basic transportation investment criteria that MPC developed and released in the spring of 2000.  The highway would run through largely undeveloped land. It would be inconsistent with the Kane County 2020 Land Resource Management Plan, which calls for the land to be preserved for agricultural use. And it would run counter to MPC’s goals for sensible growth in the region:   (1) to strengthen the economic competitiveness of the Chicago metropolitan region through smarter use of infrastructure investments and incentives;  (2) to revitalize and support existing communities; (3) and to promote and preserve development that is more walkable, transit-friendly, and preserves natural resources in newly developing areas. 

There are many highly desirable projects in the official 2020 Regional Transportation Plan that are not fully funded. These include critical needs for the region such as the O’Hare Bypass and Elgin-O’Hare Expressway; the Outer Circumferential Commuter and Freight Rail Corridor (using the old EJ&E right-of-way); and the need for a full interchange at the meeting of  Interstates 57 and 294.   The proposed Outer Belt Highway — whether built as a tollway or as federally funded freeway — would usurp funding resources from these other priorities, and spread even thinner the inadequate resources available to maintain and renew the transportation infrastructure we already have. 

Then there is the impact such a highway would have upon existing plans to preserve agricultural lands and open space. The existing 2020 Regional Transportation Plan says this of the proposed Outer Belt corridor “…given the agricultural nature of this corridor, future studies will need to pay special attention to any proposed facility’s consistency with the 2020 Kane County Land Resource Management Plan.[1]    That plan calls for the western third of the county, through which this corridor runs, to be preserved for the agricultural economy, while efficiently planning for projected population growth in the urban corridor along the Fox River as well as the critical growth area in the central part of the county.  An Outer Belt Highway would directly counter these objectives —objectives that have been planned by the county in close coordination with the communities of Kane County. 

MPC supports efforts to provide for the transportation needs of the entire region — from plans to extend Metra commuter service all the way to Elburn in Kane County,  to Kendall County’s interest in expanded transit options and road improvements.  How we improve the transportation network, in the context of sensible land planning for new development, poses serious questions that require civic participation and an inclusive planning process for citizens throughout the region.   

MPC welcomes the opportunity to work with local, state and federal leaders to maximize federal support to the northeastern Illinois region, so long as that support meets the region’s transportation and development needs both efficiently and sensibly.

To that end, MPC has developed, and will continue to apply, what we call our Transportation Investment Criteria.

Allow me to describe those criteria.

As a policy and advocacy organization on regional growth issues, MPC has been a strong and consistent voice for coordinated land use and infrastructure planning, and for corresponding transportation investments.  With the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, MPC helped form Business Leaders for Transportation in 1997 and successfully advocated for increased resources for metropolitan Chicago’s transportation network during recent federal and state funding debates.  MPC adopted its Transportation Investment Criteria in spring 2001 for its own use, and to assist public bodies and other organizations in evaluating major investments. 

The major elements of the criteria include:

  • Accessibility and Mobility
  • Planning, Community and Land Use
  • Environment
  • Balanced Economic Development
  • Financial Resources 

Let me summarize by stating what we think of as A Regional View

The Metropolitan Planning Council believes that no one major transportation investment can be looked at in isolation.  Several public and civic forums are now in place to examine these issues, from the Campaign for Sensible Growth to the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission to Chicago Metropolis 2020.  Their good work, along with MPC’s own transportation investment criteria, ought to be consulted before any irreversible decisions are made regarding major transportation proposals for the region.  Through the active involvement of citizens throughout Illinois, a vision of a better future is emerging that reflects community development needs and concerns.  That vision of the future needs to be supported, not undermined, by the infrastructure investments — especially the transportation investments — that we plan today.

Thank you for your kind attention. 

MPC Transportation Investment Criteria

  • Accessibility and Mobility — New tranpsportation projects should improve access and mobility for the region’s users by efficiently and conveniently connecting to existing transportation services and networks; to be part of an area-wide comprehensive transportation plan [2]; and to be multi-modal, supporting choice and linkages between auto, public transit, air, rail, water and truck, to the maximum extent possible.
  • Planning, Community and Land Use — Transportation infrastructure should be designed and built so that both local development and public infrastructure are viable and sustainable.  Proposed investments should be compatible and coordinated with comprehensive regional, county and municipal land use plans and state and federal programs and plans, and be designed to foster clustered, contiguous, mixed–use, human scale development to reduce the growth of congestion on the region’s scarce road network and increase the viability of transit options.
  • Environment — Investments should minimize negative impacts on air quality, noise, energy consumption, land and natural resources (NEPA requirements).
  • Balanced Economic Development — Transportation investments should foster economic development and redevelopment opportunities for underserved areas and the region as a whole.
  • Financial Resources — A transportation investment proposal should include estimated total project cost, identified funding sources, analysis of the life-cycle maintenance and operational costs, impact on availability of resources for other regional transportation needs, and a cost-benefit analysis of alternatives that quantifies the relative impacts among competing priorities.

[1] Chicago Area Transportation Study, 2020 Regional Transportation Plan, 1997, page 133.

[2] A comprehensive transportation plan includes an analysis of all modes and transportation stategies to improve movement in the area.



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