Let's Quit Wasting Money and Invest in Our Transportation Infrastructure - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Let's Quit Wasting Money and Invest in Our Transportation Infrastructure

On April 29, 2019, MPC President MarySue Barrett presented testimony to the Illinois Senate Subcommittees on Capital and Appropriations.

For 85 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council has been dedicated to shaping a more equitable, sustainable and prosperous greater Chicago region. We know that a strong and robust transportation network is critical to creating an economically vibrant and livable region.

But Illinois' transportation system has been on a starvation diet, which jeopardizes our region’s competitiveness.  The Metropolitan Planning Council recently published a report called Transit Means Business, which highlighted the stories of some of Illinois’ major employers who increasingly need transit to access talent.  For example, McDonald’s Corporation found that it was not getting enough quality job applicants at its global headquarters in Oak Brook, which was not transit accessible. 

Rebuilding our infrastructure will cost less than continuing to suffer.

Location and transit motivated its corporate relocation to Chicago near CTA and Metra services in 2018.  After the move, employees’ commutes went from 90% by car to 90% by transit and other means.  The number and quality of job applicants skyrocketed.  As more companies rely on transit for talent, our system must be in good condition to get workers to jobs on time every day.

Transit is critical throughout the state. Our report showed that in Champaign-Urbana, the transit system serves more than 40,000 students and the broader community, and provides more than 16 million rides annually. Amtrak service forms a critical connection for students who travel home to Chicago and for staff who travel to Chicago for business. When the Midwest Interstate Rail Passenger Commission surveyed college students, 46% said access to public transportation would affect a decision to stay in the Midwest after graduating. 

Other regions’ experiences are a warning signal for the Chicagoland’s aging system. Consider Washington, D.C.’s Metro system. Once the jewel of metropolitan transit systems, the Metro rail system’s deferral of maintenance recently reached a critical state, resulting in severe safety threat, including track fires and passenger deaths. Metro is trying to catch up by implementing three years of maintenance in one year, temporarily closing individual or groups of stations to perform extensive repairs, a huge inconvenience to riders.

Remember, Metro was brand new just 40 years ago. Our system is more than 100 years old so the maintenance required is more significant. 

After extensive study and consulting with transportation experts around the state, in 2016 the Metropolitan Planning Council determined that maintenance and basic upgrades of Illinois transportation infrastructure – transit and roads – will require an additional $43 billion in investment over 10 years, or an average of $4.3 billion each year. That's less than we're already wasting today on extra repairs to vehicles as a result of poor road conditions, time lost to congestion and delays, and loss of jobs and investment to neighboring states. Rebuilding our infrastructure will cost less than continuing to suffer. Anything under $4 billion annually is insufficient to grow our economy. And waiting will only increase our costs and put us further behind.

There will always be resource constraints, so we need to commit to spend transportation funds strategically, using data-driven analysis to reap the greatest benefits for every dollar invested. We must commit to greater transparency on which projects are selected, why, and what the benefits will be. Called “performance-based planning”, it is widely accepted as the best practice in transportation investment nationally.

Illinois quality of life is suffering. Last year, MPC collected stories about how transportation breakdowns affect people’s lives via our #BustedCommute social media campaign.  We heard story after painful story of people being unable to board full trains, buses running late and roads with gargantuan potholes, all potentially affecting their livelihoods when they are repeatedly late to work.

Since the state gas tax was last raised in 1990, its purchasing power has declined by 40 percent. In turn, transportation investment has fallen by 40 percent. According to the Regional Transportation Authority, the maintenance backlog for the three Chicago area transit agencies is more than $19.4 billion, resulting in reliability issues. Roads are in the worst condition in 40 years and bridges like the one on Lake Shore Drive or I-80 over the Des Plaines River in Joliet are compromised.

In the past we've relied on infrequent (and inadequate) capital bills to patch together funding.  To return our roads, bridges and transit to good condition and to prepare for growth, we need a substantial, regular, reliable source of revenue. Thirty-one states have passed bills to raise sustainable transportation revenue since 2012. It’s way past time for Illinois to take action. We need to raise the gas tax and/or vehicle registrations and index them to inflation, while researching other longer-term solutions for sustainable transportation revenue. There is no Federal infrastructure legislation expected soon, so it’s up to us to invest in the future we want for Illinois.                  

The debate around transportation too often boils down to “how we will pay for what’s needed?” It’s an important question to answer. But at the heart of this debate is something else entirely. We must be able to answer: what kind of future are we willing to invest in for Illinois workers and families?


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For more than 80 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has made the Chicago region a better place to live and work by partnering with businesses, communities and governments to address the area's toughest planning and development challenges. MPC works to solve today's urgent problems while consistently thinking ahead to prepare the region for the needs of tomorrow. Read more about our work »

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