Transportation Policy - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Transportation Policy

Rethinking investment policies and revenue sources

Our failure to invest in infrastructure is slowing us down, stifling our economy and making Illinois less competitive than our neighbors.


Illinois has a $43 billion transportation deficit

Years of declining investment have left Illinois’ roads, rails and bridges in poor shape. We must invest $43 billion to rebuild and improve our state’s transportation network. Doing nothing will actually cost us more: From damaged vehicles to lost time, our crumbling infrastructure is taking money out of our pockets and slowing down our state’s economy.

Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) consulted experts around the state to determine that meeting Illinois’ transportation deficit requires an investment of $43 billion over 10 years, or an average of $4.3 billion each year for 10 years. That’s less than we’re already wasting 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.

A regular investment of $4.3 billion each year for the next 10 years will fill the gap so we can make the fixes we need today, plus allow for sensible expansion to accommodate tomorrow. Any less is insufficient to meet the maintenance backlog. Waiting will only increase our costs and put us further behind our neighboring states, who are already taking action to invest more in infrastructure. We must act in 2017.

We're in this mess because we've invested less and less

Since it was last raised in 1991, the purchasing power of the state’s fixed per-gallon gas tax has declined by more than 40 percent—reducing the average Illinoisan’s contribution from the equivalent of $160 to under $100 per year (in 2013 dollars). In turn, transportation spending has fallen by 40 percent, from 13 percent of state spending in 1991 to eight percent in 2014. Meanwhile, the portion of our roads in good condition has fallen from the standard of 90 percent to only 79 percent in 2015. Without action, this will decline to 62 percent by 2021. Transit systems in Northeastern Illinois have also fallen behind dramatically. RTA estimates that only about 67 percent of the region’s transit network is in a state of good repair. At existing levels of funding, less than half of the system’s buses, trains and infrastructure will be in a state of good repair by 2030.

In the past we’ve relied on large but infrequent capital bills to patch together funding. The resulting boom-and-bust cycle was unpredictable and ultimately inefficient. To allow us to return our infrastructure to good condition and accommodate growth, we need a substantial, regular, reliable source of additional revenue.


We need sustainable, reliable funding

+ $0.30/gal
gas tax
+ 50%
registration fees

To start catching up on our maintenance backlog and adequately plan for the future, Illinois needs a sustainable, reliable revenue source that can raise an additional $2.7 billion in revenue each year (on top of existing federal and state sources). Of this $2.7 billion, about half can be used for pay-as-you-go spending, with the other half to support $25 billion in bonds over the 10 years, meeting the $43 billion need. (After the first ten years, the continued revenue will fully support the repayment of the bonds over their 25 year life. We assume a five percent rate.)

This is equivalent to a $0.30/gal increase in state motor fuel taxes and a 50 percent increase in vehicle registration fees. The tax and fees should be indexed to the consumer price index to keep pace with inflation. MPC recommends the state constitution be amended to create a transportation trust fund to protect this revenue. To acknowledge the effect of these increases on lower- and middle-income Illinoisans, the state earned income tax credit should double to 20 percent of the federal amount.

In the long term, MPC recognizes the need to shift toward a user fee that is not tied to fuel purchases. We must begin exploring a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) fee today so that we can have full implementation by 2025.

We must prioritize projects to invest smartly

Effectively distributing an additional $43 billion investment requires diligent planning and prioritization. Luckily, we already have statewide, regional and local plans that identify bridges to rebuild, roads to repave, and transit lines to upgrade. In terms of maintenance, we know what we need to fix. We simply need the money to do it.

To ensure we receive the maximum return on investments in major, transformative projects, state funding should prioritize infrastructure that meets performance-based criteria. When decision makers are more accountable and the decision-making process is more transparent, taxpayers know where their dollars are being invested and are more likely to support new revenue sources. A performance-based approach also will give Illinois an advantage over other states in pursuing competitive federal funding. Agencies around the state have started integrating performance measures into their planning and project selection, and some of these results are already reflected in plans.


Investing more would actually cost us less

Cost per person
to invest +$43 billion
40 cents per day
$12.25 per month
$147 per year

The additional gas tax and the increase in vehicle registration fees described above would cost the average person $12.25 each month, or $147 each year. That’s 40 cents a day. The average Illinois household spends more than $10,000 a year on transportation. For a fraction more, we can have a system that works. Each month it’s the cost of one lunch, or a Netflix subscription.

Or, we can continue to waste $3.7 billion every year on extra car repairs from poor roads—that’s $450 per driver. Chicagoland commuters lose 114 hours every year sitting in traffic, according to the latest figures from TomTom. MPC has estimated the annual cost of that traffic congestion at $7.3 billion. Train commuters lose a combined 800,000 hours every year to delays that could be prevented with simple fixes, including finishing the CREATE program. What’s the cost of that lost time? Certainly more than $12.25 each month.

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