Talking Transit: The gubernatorial transition offers exciting new opportunities for transportation in Illinois - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Talking Transit: The gubernatorial transition offers exciting new opportunities for transportation in Illinois

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With a renewed emphasis on infrastructure, our state could fund more improvements to our existing transit system.

Published monthly, MPC’s Talking Transit provides updates about transit-related activities around the world.

Get In the Loop on all the latest local, national and international transit headlines.

Did You Know?

Last November, Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) President MarySue Barrett was named by incoming Ill. Gov. Bruce Rauner to co-chair his Infrastructure Transition Committee. In this role, which MarySue shared with Kirk Dillard of the Regional Transportation Authority, Del Wilkins of Illinois Marine Towing and Canal Barge Company and Christal Wilson of the University of Chicago, MPC led a dialogue on how to address the state’s infrastructure challenges. MPC Executive Vice President Peter Skosey was also a member of the committee. The Transition Committee’s overall report, which includes the work of several subcommitees and which was released this month, summarizes that discussion and offers Gov. Rauner useful steps forward for our transportation system as his administration begins.

An acknowledgement of significant infrastructure shortfalls

The transition report emphasizes the importance of investment in transportation, noting that an essential vision for the state is “infrastructure that moves people and goods safely and easily, while simultaneously serving as a job-creation engine for current and future generations.”

The report notes that the state’s transportation is in desperate need of renovation. Across Illinois, hundreds of bridges are in need of repair, three-quarters of roads are in poor or mediocre condition and the state has a total of $1.8 billion in additional surface transportation repair needs—if we want to achieve a state of good repair on our system anytime soon.

The state revenue sources we currently have dedicated to transportation investments have made long-term planning difficult, in part because of declining value over time (the state’s motor fuels tax per gallon has not increased for more than 20 years, despite significant inflation over that period). In addition, the state has not developed a clear approach to prioritizing projects based on economic, environmental and equity impacts—a process that has been pioneered by agencies such as Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning in the GO TO 2040 regional plan. The transition report specifically calls out the formulas used to dedicate funds to agencies by the Regional Transportation Authority and the Illinois Dept. of Transportation as out of date and ineffective. Gov. Rauner’s selection of current Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning head Randy Blankenhorn as Ill. Secretary of Transportation is a good sign that performance measures could be implemented soon.

A strong endorsement of MPC’s ideas

The Illinois transportation system’s needs may be significant, but the transition report highlights several potential ways by which to address them and endorses several of MPC’s policy proposals. The report’s path forward specifically mentions the following goals for Illinois:

  1. Implement a transparent planning process that encourages the use of cost-benefit analysis to select projects and that enforces cooperation between state agencies that invest in capital. This recommendation incorporates MPC’s goals of developing performance measures to select appropriate projects for funding and the creation of a state office of capital coordination to guarantee that agencies are working with one another.
  1. Optimize existing sources of funding and develop sustainable funding sources, such as the modernization of the sales tax, a new emphasis on value capture from transportation projects and the creation of an infrastructure intermediary that encourages public-private partnerships to finance infrastructure. MPC supports the efforts to broaden the sales tax to incorporate certain services, allow transit facilities to be funded through value capture and create a new Illinois infrastructure intermediary.
  1. Deliver programs efficiently with well managed agencies and simplified procurement. In a state where the department of transportation has been repeatedly wracked by scandal, our public agencies are in need of efficient management.

The committee’s recommended 100-day actions

The Infrastructure Committee recommends four gubernatorial actions in Gov. Rauner’s first 100 days in office:

  • Initiate reform of the state’s investment and planning process, incorporating performance measures;
  • Identify innovative funding sources for new infrastructure investment;
  • Identify the best mechanism for coordinating capital investment across agencies; and
  • Pause and review major projects.

Upon his inauguration, Gov. Rauner froze non-essential spending, an important first step in reviewing major projects to prioritize the maximum return on investment. Such projects include the Illiana Expressway, which MPC, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning board and a host of other organizations oppose.

MPC expects that these initial actions will play an important role in reforming the way Illinois spends money, for the better. We are looking forward to working with the Rauner administration and state legislators not only to identify essential new funding for transportation, but also to ensure that our state is distributing that funding appropriately.

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