IDOT’s $400 Million Circle Interchange Expansion Won’t Fix Congestion

Circle Interchange
The existing Circle Interchange disrupting West Loop, Greektown, Loop, and UIC.

An expensive new interchange expansion that the Illinois Department of Transportation is pushing for downtown threatens to dump more traffic on Chicago streets, but the project still needs approval from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning to move forward. While IDOT is simultaneously proposing some improvements for biking and walking in the area, all of those could be implemented without the new highway components. The deadline for public comments to CMAP about the project is Monday.

IDOT is planning to build new car lanes and three new flyovers at the Circle Interchange, the downtown spaghetti bowl confluence of the Dan Ryan, Kennedy, and Eisenhower Expressways (I-90/94, I-290). IDOT justifies this $410 million project by saying it will improve traffic congestion, reduce crashes at this location, speed up travel time, and make it easier for truckers to drive through the interchange.

southbound Halsted photorealistic with flyover
An IDOT rendering of the proposed flyover above Halsted Street. Note the plethora of trees disguising the new road.

But an analysis from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning concluded that none of these changes are guaranteed and warned that the project will lead to more car trips, more carbon emissions, and fewer transit trips [PDF]. CMAP’s Tom Garritano said “the project was not identified as a priority in the planning process that led to the development of GOTO2040,” the agency’s regional plan, in 2010. Since the project isn’t listed in GOTO2040, it can’t move forward unless CMAP approves it.

According to CMAP’s analysis, the interchange expansion is projected to convert 1,000 trips from transit to driving and increase carbon dioxide emissions by 39,000 metric tons each year. While the Circle Interchange, according to the Federal Highway Administration, is the nation’s “most heavily congested freight bottleneck,” this expensive effort to make room for traffic isn’t going to fix congestion. CMAP predicts that drivers in the region will save 1.2 seconds per trip if the project is built.

Active Transportation Alliance Executive Director Ron Burke suggested that the interchange project is a poor way to achieve transportation goals. “If you really want to address congestion in a long-term sustainable way, we need to give people alternatives to driving, especially driving alone,” he said. “We’re concerned about this emphasis on highway expansion at a time when the experience in Chicagoland and other areas shows us that it is, at best, a short-term solution to roadway congestion. In general it perpetuates land use and travel patterns that make us auto dependent creating a negative feedback loop. It’s not a sustainable way to address congestion.”

Brandon Gobel, who hauls bricks for a trucking company based in Pilsen, thinks that the Circle Interchange is difficult for truckers to drive through but is highly skeptical that the changes will have any effect on congestion. “What improvements to transit service are being made for people who could skip the Circle Interchange and prevent the area from returning to the same congestion levels?” he said. “Since this area is so important for cargo, non-truckers could be tolled.”

Peoria entrance at UIC-Halsted station
The Peoria Street bridge would be rebuilt.

IDOT is attaching some bike and pedestrian improvements to the interchange project, but all of them could be implemented independently of the interchange. “The main takeaway is that in every drawing there are some improvements for bicyclists and pedestrians,” said Paul Lippens, a transportation planner at Active Trans. “They’re making a good faith effort to implement the complete streets policy, which I think is encouraging.”

The bike proposals include buffered bike lanes on one block each of Harrison Street and Jackson Boulevard, between Halsted and Canal Streets, and a bike lane on southbound Halsted Street between Van Buren and Harrison Streets where there’s currently only a northbound bike lane. The Halsted bike lanes would be in the center of the street, with automobile traffic on both sides of the bike lane.

To fit the new flyover from northbound Dan Ryan onto westbound Eisenhower under Peoria Street, the Peoria Street bridge will have to be reconstructed. This very lightly-trafficked street is “an opportunity to go above and beyond,” Lippens said, adding that “this is really a gateway for all modes to enter the UIC Campus. It can even be a gateway from the highway into the Loop.” The University of Illinois at Chicago’s campus master plan calls for this area to become a “signature gateway” to the campus.

UIC said they were unable to share details of their plans, and IDOT hasn’t responded to request for comment. (Disclosure: Architect Ryan Lakes and I worked on a proposal for a pedestrian street here that we introduced at a UIC Urban Innovation Symposium last week.)

The CMAP Board and CMAP’s Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Committee will consider IDOT’s request to include this project in the GOTO2040 plan at their March 13 and 14 meetings, respectively. The public comment period ends Monday, February 18. To comment on the interchange project, write to: CMAP, ATTN Plan and TIP amendments, 233 S. Wacker Dr., Suite 800, Chicago, IL, 60606; via email or phone 312-454-0400.

  • Scott Sanderson

    Thanks, I emailed them a comment.

  • Adam Herstein

    $400 million to save 1.2 seconds? IDOT must be crazy.

  • Anonymous

    At the same time, IDOT is proposing the $1B reconstruction of I-290 including a partial add-a-lane, take-away-a-lane between Mannheim and Cicero. The billion dollar boondoggle uses the same justification, i.e., beyond useful life, need to improve safety and congestion, etc., that forms the foundation for all capacity enhancements.

    So, creating a HOT lane between Mannheim and Cicero (or Damen) involves adding a lane between Mannheim and Austin, and taking away a lane (by way of conversion) between Austin and Cicero (or Damen). All the general purpose traffic that had been traveling on four lanes east of Austin would then be compressed into three lanes. The new HOT lane would offer limited priced access for those able to afford it. Their priced HOT lane would dump them out on the east end heading into the Circle Interchange and a traffic light beyond that, yet it will somehow continue to flow at posted speed through its entire length (how when it hits a traffic jam at the east end?).

    To make matters worse, the IDOT analysis fails to contemplate state of good repair (fix-it-first) needs for the CTA Blue Line located in the median of their proposed $1B major capital investment, let alone effectively consider whether pricing all existing lanes combined with improved, expanded transit service might accomplish their goals exceedingly well. Examples around the world show that pricing combined with reliable, efficient, and affordable transit networks make HUGE improvements to congestion relief and commuter safety.

    It is sad that funding pots determine what we build rather than common sense. That’s why we continue to build-out the world’s best road network well beyond the point that it has remained the right thing to do in urban areas – or whether it was ever the rightt thing to do, but that is a different line of discussion.

    In any case, we need an efficient, affordable, and reliable regional transit network – not a ceaseless stream of ill0-advised and under-performing highway expansion projects.

    It is always the next highway expansion that is needed to solve the problem. The only issue being that the only problem it solves is lining the pockets of the road-building industry while harming everyone else.

  • John

    You know that CMAP is a division of IDOT, right?

  • Anonymous

    The Complete Streets elements are notable, though, yet can be executed independently of an expansion project.

  • Ryan Wallace

    CMAP and IDOT are separate, independent organizations. CMAP only oversees planning in the Chicago region (suppling funds to various agencies such as municipalities and counties); whereas IDOT oversees transportations throughout the state. They often work together, but neither is a division of the other.

  • Ryan Wallace

    IDOT is framing the issues of the circle interchange incorrectly. I think safety is the biggest reason the interchange needs to be rebuilt. The interchange was built far below current standards, and decrease in congestion a should be viewed as an ancillary bonus. I believe an article on the Streetsblog network recently pointed out the need less spending on new highways/interstates, and the neglectful maintain existing facilities. I think this project falls into the latter, rather than the former. Part of me wonders if this project should be planned concurrently with the 290 improvements. That way any considerations for transit improvements (a must for the corridor) can be considered together, rather than independently. I think Brandon’s idea in the piece about tolling those that go through the circle interchange is a good one, as long as it doesn’t cause undo stress on the surrounding streets from the off load.

  • My understanding of MAP-21 is that it prohibits adding tolled facilities (including HOT lanes) to an existing Interstate highway (the Ike is I-290) unless the existing number of free lanes is maintained, so east of Austin IDOT would have to continue maintaining four free lanes of traffic.

  • Good point. The bridges in the Circle Interchange must be nearing the end of their useful life, and I don’t know if they can legally be reconstructed in place as they don’t meet current Interstate safety standards. IDOT’s in a bit of a pickle with the Circle.

  • A brief nitpick: I understand that this is a blog first and a news source second, but I do take some issue with the lack of neutralization involved by captioning a picture showing the Circle Interchange as “disrupting” the surrounding communities that border it. Keep in mind the Circle was there before UIC was built. (UIC’s original name, “University of Illinois at Chicago Circle”, pays homage to the interchange.) That’s like saying that the ‘L’ currently “disrupts” the Loop, Wrigley Field is “disrupting” the rooftops, or that O’Hare is “disrupting” the Village of Rosemont. At this point, the Circle has been part of the community for 50+ years, and the neighborhoods have adapted. While this is a great opportunity to reconnect the neighborhoods in this area and soften the hard edges formed by the freeways, the Circle’s mere presence isn’t doing anything more disruptive to the community today than it was doing last week, last month, or last year.

  • Only one flyover or bridge in the Circle Interchange is identified as “structurally deficient” and only its substructure (the columns that hold it up). It is the one that hooks southbound I-94 into eastbound Congress Parkway.

  • What was there before the Circle Interchange wasn’t empty space.

    And the additions of the flyover will become disruptions for those who have to walk or bike under it and those who peer at it from the windows of the National Hellenic Museum and other buildings.

  • What if the state foregoes federal funds?

  • Anonymous

    What if … Pilots, legislative changes, etc.

    Check their EIS. That’s the proposal.

  • Anonymous

    IDOT has long argued that the Circle Interchange and the balance of I – 290 needs/problems are unrelated to one another.

    Any argument to the contrary means the they lack both logical termini and independent utility for the I-290 project, which would violate federal regs. Oops.

    The real safety solution: get people out of their cars and into transit. That requires we invest in alternatives.

  • Anonymous

    Independent…

  • Anonymous

    Have they changed or simply circled back around? I don’t think Burnham envisioned flyovers for the Congress. :)

  • Anonymous

    Useful life. Safety. Geometric deficiencies. Useful life. Safety. Geometric deficiencies.

    Project after project’s broken record. Major investment after major investment.

    Results?

  • BlueFairlane

    Traffic engineers have a long history of devising increasingly complicated solutions to problems with simple origins. Personally, I’ve long thought the bulk of the congestion problems with the Congress could be solved simply by switching up which highways get tolled. We toll the highways that by-pass the city and make the route right through the center of it free. This drives all the through traffic that should be going around and would probably prefer to go around–including the majority of commercial traffic–right through the Circle. I say leave the Circle alone (anything they build will dwarf the Circle in stupidity), free the current loop formed by I-80/I-294/I-94, and toll everything inside it.

  • Ryan Wallace

    Safety concerns include more than just “structurally deficient” bridges/flyouvers. The elements that appear most substandard are the radii of the ramps.

  • Ryan Wallace

    “Capping” the circle interchange and/or I-290 would be extremely more expensive than all other options (which is why the alternative has been eliminated from consideration for I-290). I love what has been done with the Congress interchange, and the amount of green space they were able to add, but that project is far less complex.

    The need for additional focus on transit, pedestrians, and bikes is obvious, but does that automatically mean that the project should not occur at all?? Your article almost brushes off the pedestrian and bike improvements in passing, just saying that they could be achieve independently from the Circle interchange improvement. Are these not worthy improvements? How about proposing alternatives/augmentations that would improve the design?

  • If reducing crashes, injuries, and deaths is the goal, there are much better ways to spend $400 million than building a project that’s going to induce more traffic.

  • Mcass777

    $410 million is a lot of jobs. Politicians love projects like this especially with democrats in Springfield facing elections. A quick call to DC says this will probably go forward. The unions who do not care about bike lanes ( except to pave and paint them) will push hard for this project. Remember, follow the money.

  • Alan Robinson

    It’s not the radii of the ramps themselves, but the speed differential at the merge points.

  • Terry Hildebrand

    I am in agreement with all of you folks who oppose the IDOT plans. I am relative old-timer, a 1978 graduate of the Architecture and City Planning program at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), born in Illinois and lived in and around Chicago for the first half of my life, but now living in Honolulu, Hawaii.

    My career experience as a planner has convinced more than I ever had a student of the wisdom of Ludwig Hilberseimer’s general planning concepts, especially relative to automobile, transit, pedestrian, and bicycle circulation. If people reading this are not familiar with his city planning concepts, I recommend that you become so. His plans accommodated automobile circulation without letting it dominate our existence. His plans featuring extensive cul-de-sacs for residential areas allowed pedestrians and bicyclists freedom to move about without needing to endanger themselves crossing an auto intersection or walking or riding alongside motor vehicles. Of course, kids too could get to school without crossing a street. He envisioned these plans being applied in Chicago where he taught for many years at IIT, and you can find more information about them in books he published, such as The New City, Principles of Planning.

    I can see today as a professional planner many more advantages to Hilberseimer’s visionary plans than I could as a student when the virtues of the plans pointed out were primarily safety and convenience. The environmental and financial virtues are equally important to me now. His plans substantially reduce the cost of infrastructure development because so much less land is dedicated to paved streets carrying motor vehicles, and thus there is much less need for expensive storm water drainage systems, as well as parking lots and on-street parking pavement. More land is covered with trees and vegetation, thus reducing the urban heat island effect and promoting cleaner, more oxygen-rich air in the city, lower temperatures region-wide, and significantly greater groundwater recharge, and the reduction of pollution of our streams, lakes, and waterways from the fluids and debris accumulating on streets and highways.

    As long as our lives are dominated by automobiles, congestion is unavoidable because motor vehicles are enormous space-hogs. We have been so accustomed to their domination of our landscape, many people are oblivious as to just how much of the land and resources they consume, and mostly consume unnecessarily. Even a car at rest in a parkings space has about a 300 to 350 square foot “foot print,” which is equal to the foot print of the corporate executive’s office suite with his/her personal bathroom. In motion, a motor vehicle requires far more space, of course, to travel safely. If one uses the not very conservative rule of thumb that there needs to be one car-length for every ten miles per hour of speed, and a typical traffic lane is 12 feet wide, then a typical car traveling at 50 miles per hour under dry pavement conditions needs 1,200 square feet of space, as much as typical, single family three-bedroom home! Of course, that would be a home with railroad car proportions, 12 feet wide by 120 feet long, including the vehicle, but carrying just one or two, or at most a handful of occupants.

    home!

  • Anonymous

    $400 million to induce more driving and congestion.
    What if we had a realistic, cost-effective alternative to driving and parking on the table?
    For $400 million you could criss-cross downtown Chicago with several miles of high-capacity modern streetcars running with priority in their lane and at intersections–upgrading some of our busiest bus routes to transit anyone would ride.
    Where density, ridership, and congestion are very high, modern streetcars are less expensive to operate than buses stuck in traffic and one-tenth the construction cost of subways or elevated trains.

    For each proposal to invest in inducing more driving I’d like IDOT to show maps of equal investments to provide attractive alternatives to driving.

  • BlueFairlane

    I see your point, but I think your estimate of what $400 million will buy is extremely high. The oft-discussed BRT will be far less expensive that building street car lines, and the average cost of BRT systems is $13.3 million per mile. At that level, $400 million would get us 30 miles of BRT … essentially, if my understanding of the plans is correct, the Ashland and Western corridors. Streetcars would cost more, so we’d get less.

  • Anonymous

    I think BRT is the right choice for Ashland and Western.
    In most places, BRT is more cost-effective than streetcars, if less attractive. But true BRT is not a lot cheaper than a rapid streetcar, and where ridership is very high, the operating cost of rail is lower because each driver can move many more passengers in the longer vehicles, and the drivers are about 75% of the operating cost.
    In places where you just want to minimize the capital cost of the transit system BRT is great; where you want to spark development, make the streets safe for biking, and attract new riders to transit, it’s worth considering modern streetcars.

    In any case, my point is that IDOT should be showing us what kind of streetcar network AND what kind of BRT network we could get for $400 million. I suspect the best investment would involve both buses and streetcars.

  • BlueFairlane

    I might dispute your numbers somewhat, but only because I’m a curmudgeon. Your larger point is sound.

  • Anonymous

    IDOT does not spend “their” money on transit.

    In their own words, “We’re highways.” Transit is someone else’s problem and they need to find their own money.

    Call me silly, but it seems we should be using public dollars in a way that cultivates the best outcomes, irrespective of agency boundaries and biases.

  • Anonymous

    Agreed. What can I do now to help make that happen?

  • Though the Circle Interchange reconstruction may be merited in the future, the overriding concern is that it did not go through any evaluation process.The Chicago region has made a collective commitment to create and advance a coordinated regional plan based on evaluation measures tied to advancing the region’s economy, the CMAP GO TO 2040 process. Unilaterally adding a project to this agreed-upon plan demeans the GO TO 2040 effort and sends a message to the public that criteria and transparency do not matter. While IDOT may be going through a public input process now about the CI design, there was no clear evaluation process in the beginning when it was determined a priority.

    The proposal to add the Circle Interchange renovation to the fiscally constrained list is another dramatic example of why we need to take this approach for all transportation investments in Illinois. We simply cannot afford to arbitrarily add and allocate funds to projects that haven’t been fairly evaluated against the hundreds of other projects in the queue.

    Fixing an interchange won’t do anything to solve congestion when it’s the highways where congestion occurs.

  • Brian Hacker

    I second your thoughts, Chrissy. When I first read about this I was surprised that such an expensive and high-profile project somehow escaped the GO TO 2040 fiscally constrained list. I’m interested in hearing more about how this situation came about, but I haven’t seen much that specifically addresses that question in the news and the minutes for the last CMAP Board meeting didn’t provide much detail. You have to wonder what this could mean for other prioritized infrastructure projects at a time when state and federal funds are dwindling. Sounds like more of the same IL politics…

  • Further, between the planning funds being spent for the Circle Interchange – $40 million – and the Illiana – we’re talking about real money that could go towards actual implementation instead of planning for projects that will do little to relieve congestion.

  • Brian – I think this project was announced by IDOT in August/Sept. IDOT’s only bringing it to CMAP now.

  • “Phase I of the Circle Interchange Study was initiated in May 2012 and is anticipated to be completed within 12 months. Phase II studies may take an additional 12 months. Currently, Phase I and Phase II are the only phases of the project that are funded. The Phase III portion remains unfunded at this time.”

    (Phase III is construction.)

  • “For each proposal to invest in inducing more driving I’d like IDOT to show maps of equal investments to provide attractive alternatives to driving.”

    I think the intent of the Alternatives Analysis process is to do just that.

    But IDOT’s problem statement was not “How do we improve transportation through a ‘bottleneck’ located at X,Y coordinates?” but “How do we ‘fix’ an interchange that constrains the capacity of the roadways that lead to it?” so their alternatives analysis only considers fixes to the road and not fixes to a transportation system.

  • I hadn’t heard of this professor until now. I’ve added The New City to my Amazon wish list.

  • I’m making this the “comment of the day”. This is a wonderful idea.

  • Adam Herstein

    I agree completely with this sentiment. I’ve always wondered why all of the expressways that enter the city proper are free. This effectively discourages people from taking Metra.

  • jared.kachelmeyer

    Good question. And with open road tolling now possible its probably more practical. I’m under the impression tolls were created to help pay for certain roads and were never meant to influence traffic patterns.

    That said I’m not sure how much a toll would change people’s behavior. People going downtown already pay a premium for parking and the cost of driving and a lot of the traffic going through there isn’t going downtown anyways.

  • Anonymous

    IDOT doesn’t recognize the Regional Comprehensive Plan, nor does it support the Preferred Scenario. They have only one planning book: The Green Book, and it isn’t terribly green in that it invariably leads to highway construction and expansion.

    Not only was the Circle Interchange not included in the adopted regional comprehensive plan, but IDOT modeling of the relative merits and drawbacks of their prospective major capital investments explicitly rejects the Preferred Scenario in favor of a “Market-based” scenario they paid their consultants to write-up. That’s a big deal – rejecting the region’s Preferred Scenario in favor of business as usual.

    The region’s Preferred Scenario includes employment and population forecasts that decidedly reflect changes in regional development patterns, i.e., more focused development in walkable, transit-oriented clusters.

    IDOT’s “market-based” scenario, on the other hand, includes employment and population forecasts that represent no change from the past – patterns of sprawl and urban disinvestment continuing for the foreseeable future, which is 2040 in this case. (Note: The market-based scenario that overwrites the preferred scenario with the same old song and dance when it comes to regional development patterns is part of the I-290 EIS materials available online.)

    IDOT argues that the policies we craft and the investments we make will have no impact on what they view as the inevitable march of sprawl and urban disinvestment. Low density at the urban fringe requires road capacity — not transit, and not liveable, walkable communities. The past is the future, they argue, so we must invest in ways that support sprawl.

    So much for GOTO 2040.

    The fiscally constrained and air quality conformed list of projects?

    Out the window.

    The Preferred Regional Scenario where development is refocused around existing activity centers?

    Out the window.

    Face it: IDOT is highways and they control the money – they are not shy about saying exactly that. Their Green Book is not green. They’re mortgaging our future with investments that generate little or no benefit for the traveling public, and their policies are designed and intended to reinforce patterns of sprawl and disinvestment in urban areas.

    Drive ’till you qualify? Foreclosure crisis? Water resource constraints in outlying areas? Increased interest in urban living and access to transit? A preferred regional scenario supported by years of public engagement in identifying priorities? Decades of IDOT investment under-performance? C’mon.

    IDOT is betting against the house, but they’re gambling with your money.

  • Anonymous

    Core issue: IDOT is not accountable for outcomes.

  • Anonymous

    …and use the revenue to improve and build-out transit alternatives. Pricing, alone, can’t solve the problem. Where it has worked tremendously, it has been in thoughtful combination with transit amenities.

    We do not presently have a transit network outside of Chicago city limits, and that limits what we can really accomplish with pricing.

  • We need to change federal law to allow for tolling existing capacity. Currently only new capacity can be tolled.

  • John

    Stop pushing to waste money on streetcars and get behind BRT.

  • Anonymous

    I’m a big supporter of express buses and BRT.
    But I suspect that where density, ridership, congestion, and labor costs are highest, high-capacity long modern streetcars are a more cost-effective solution. If it’s true that the streetcar increases property values, sparks development, and boosts local business in a way BRT doesn’t, then the streetcar might be a better investment in some places.
    There’s plenty of room in our big city for both.

  • Anonymous

    Tolls, alone, will not alter behavior. People need to be able to get from point A to point B and increasing the cost of doing it does not change the simple fact that economic livelihood trumps paying a toll.

    However, tolls in combination with auto-competitive alternatives have been demonstrated to have significant benefits. Take I-290, for instance. What if:

    1. CTA Blue Line were extended to Mannheim, with ample parking made available, car sharing, bike amenities, etc;

    2. Shoulder riding (or better) bus service of sufficient frequency were to be implemented between Naperville, Oak Brook, and Schaumburg, with a transfer point at a new west Blue terminus;

    3. Implement ART in Smart Corridors feeding into the Blue Line and new Naperville/Oak Brook/Schaumburg bus service (the three most significant non-Chicago employment centers); and

    4. Variable rate pricing were to be applied to all existing I-290 lanes without enhancing roadway capacity.

    If the toll were adjusted in near real-time to maintain free-flow or near free-flow highway conditions and people actually had an option to paying the price, fewer would drive. The benefits would accrue to highway and non-highway users, alike.

    We could do that, or we could construct a billion dollar boondoggle involving a fixed-price add-a-lane between Mannheim and Austin, including a lane take-away (conversion) east of Austin to either Cicero or Damen.

    How is our $1B better spent?

  • Anonymous

    Conversation with an engineer:

    The most significant structural deficiency is the overwhelming policy bias in favor of highway solutions to urban transportation problems.

    It’s like buying bigger pants to solve an obesity problem.

  • Guest

    Given
    IDOT will not change on its own, there are two key leverage points:

    1. Financing mechanisms

    2. Prescriptive (legislative) direction

    – Over time IDOT has received increasingly specific legislative
    direction; CMAP’s creation was a legislatively forced merger between CATS (the
    highway folks) and NIPC (the land use folks). IDOT’s name and responsibilities
    have also changed over time by legislative directive intended to cultivate awareness of their broader responsibilities. “Context Sensitive
    Solutions” was a legislatively directed initiative, as well, but lacked
    any implementation teeth, which left it operationally undefined and largely not
    implemented. It is time for the next round of prescriptive direction, as IDOT
    still does not get it. A moratorium on highway expansions until we have an
    auto-competitive regional transit network? No roadway capacity enhancements
    authorized as part of state-of-good-repair projects until our transit needs are
    addressed and pricing implemented? Maybe mandatory high-quality transit
    amenities must be included as part of any major reconstruction – not just
    express busses operating in mixed traffic, but dedicated ROW transit? Not an ambiguous “future transit” commitment, but transit now.

    – IDOT can flex highway money in support of transit, but does not do so beyond
    prescriptive thresholds. Mandate increased transit
    spending by setting higher minimum standards for transit expenditures.

    – The region is abuzz about pricing. Well then, do it right. Make certain it
    contains significant transit funding commitments, and that the corridors where the revenue
    is collected are the same corridors where the revenue is invested – not sent out to some Prairie Parkway Expressway, or some Illinana expressway, or elsewhere. Price capacity
    we have now rather than build new capacity to price. The pricing discussion is not presently headed that direction. It is about add-a-lanes, no revenue sharing with transit, and sending the money anywhere IDOT wishes to build something, or maybe even into the general fund to pay for who knows what.

    – IDOT has no accountability for results. They craft plans with lofty benefit
    claims and then fail to deliver. The Hillside Strangler project being one such
    debacle. Make them accountable for achieving the benefits they claim will
    accrue. Perhaps they will then temper their projections with a healthy dose of
    realism; competing alternatives may actually get a fair shake, then.

    – IDOT always jumps straight to mitigation because of how
    they define problems. Every problem (read their EIS’s) is defined the same way,
    no matter if it is an exit ramp south of Joliet, a highway segment through the
    west burbs, or a Circle Interchange. The mantra is “beyond useful
    life”, “capacity constraints”, and “geometric
    deficiencies” causing safety problems evidenced by crash rates; the only
    way to solve each is a highway reconstruction and expansion. Mandate that IDOT quantify non-highway engineering benefits and costs for the proposed action and any prudent and feasible alternatives. What are the economic benefits? The public health benefits? The environmental benefits? By federal statute, mitigation is the last step in a series. Why is it the go-to only step for IDOT? Becasue there is nothing we can do to improve public health, environmental health, and the economy? We can only mitigate the impacts of highway expansions. Really – there isn’t more than one way to frame and solve a regional transportation problem?

    Note: When contemplating competing alternatives for a particular proposed action, I once spoke to an elected person that commented “Although the transit alternative is clearly better, isn’t it better we build something rather than nothing?” Therein lies the problem: Project development and financing mechanisms heavily skew decision-making in favor of sub-optimal or even plainly bad road-oriented solutions.

    We need to stop planning, evaluating, and investing that way.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

As Circle Interchange Clears Another Hurdle, Doubts Remain About Its Value

|
On Friday, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning transportation committee voted to recommend the addition of the Illinois Department of Transportation’s $410 million Circle Interchange project to GO TO 2040, the official regional plan. According to CMAP’s estimates, the project will increase carbon emissions and decrease transit trips. Governor Pat Quinn has directed IDOT to pursue […]

IDOT Presents Final Plans for Circle Interchange

|
The Illinois Department of Transportation showed final plans for the Circle Interchange expansion last Thursday at the last public meeting about the project. You now have a week and a half to tell IDOT your thoughts on the record before the public comment period ends July 12 (see how below). Since the last public meeting, IDOT has […]

MPC: Funding the Illiana Expressway Would Be a Big Mistake

|
The Metropolitan Planning Council, a non-profit promoting economic development strategies for Chicagoland, has come out strongly against the Illiana Expressway, a 47-mile highway the Illinois Department of Transportation has proposed for the rural communities of southern Will County and northwestern Indiana. MPC released a statement yesterday highlighting numerous shortcomings in IDOT’s proposal, including vague financing […]
STREETSBLOG USA

8 Monster Interchanges That Blight American Cities

|
Ramming highways through the middle of American cities was undoubtedly one of the worst mistakes of the 20th century — demolishing urban habitat, dividing neighborhoods, and erecting structures that suck the life out of places. What could be worse than a highway through the middle of town? How about when two highways intersect, with all […]