We all use transportation. So why don’t we invest in it? - Metropolitan Planning Council

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We all use transportation. So why don’t we invest in it?

The Lake Shore Drive incident shows us that the cost of not investing in transportation can literally be dangerous. Illinois is the transportation hub of the nation. Let's act like it. 

Brianna Kelly via Crain's Chicago Business

When a Lake Shore Drive bridge beam cracked last week, closing down one of the city’s major transportation arteries for a day, commuter anguish was palpable.

When major portions of our transportation system become inoperable due to structural or mechanical failure, one simple truth is revealed: We all rely on transportation every day.

When major portions of our transportation system become inoperable due to structural or mechanical failure, one simple truth is revealed: We all rely on transportation every day.

When transportation fails, the cost is astronomical. Lost productivity. Lost wages. Delayed and more costly freight shipments. Stress about arriving late.

Businesses increasingly focus on how location impacts their employees’ commutes. MPC’s recent Transit Means Business report highlighted business decisions like McDonald’s to move near transit so workers have a more convenient and reliable way to get to their jobs.

Thankfully, there were no injuries when the Lake Shore Drive bridge nearly failed. Or when an old Metra locomotive burst into flame in December. But we can’t rely on luck. We need legislators to take urgent action to invest in our transportation system. Gov. J.B. Pritzker took a first step in his infrastructure transition team’s report, which acknowledged “the state’s approach to infrastructure requires renewed direction and investment.”

But a commitment to increase funding must go hand-in-hand with smart policies. Our organizations offer these values that should be part of an Illinois transportation infrastructure bill:

• Sustainability. Funds should come from people using the system—not through bonding and more debt. This may mean increasing the state gas tax, which hasn’t been raised in 30 years and isn’t indexed to inflation. We also need to consider other transportation funding alternatives to prepare for the future.

• Transparency. We applaud the governor’s recognition that there is a need for “greater transparency in the planning process.” We need to choose transportation projects based on data and business inputs, not political whims. When we clearly communicate the benefits of transportation investment to people, they will support it.

• Choices. In addition to roads and bridges, we need to ensure significant funding for transit, pedestrian, bicycle and passenger rail, which currently receive no ongoing capital funding in Illinois. Additionally, investment in our freight systems is critical for moving goods and sustaining a healthy economy.

The Lake Shore Drive incident shows us that the cost of not investing in transportation can literally be dangerous. Illinois is the transportation hub of the nation. Let’s act like it.

MarySue Barrett is president of the Metropolitan Planning Council. Jack Lavin is president and CEO of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. Kelly R. Welsh is president of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago.

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