The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s GO TO 2040 regional comprehensive plan has weathered some major ups and downs in its four-year lifespan. CMAP has received several awards for the plan, which required a huge effort on their part to reach out to local residents and overwrite decades of uncoordinated transportation “plans.”
Last year, though, the plan’s political support was tested when those in charge of executing it, including Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, the Illinois Department of Transportation, and Metra and Pace, all put politics above policy and voted to add the sprawl-inducing, job-sucking Illiana Tollway to the plan. The Illiana, and particularly the high priority given to it, directly contradicts the plan’s directive that “investments that maintain and modernize the transportation system should be prioritized over major expansion projects.”
The federal government is now asking CMAP for a four-year update to the plan. The analysis adds in recent data and revisions, since legislation has changed and projects have been built, but not a wholesale rewrite. As CMAP spokesperson Justine Reisinger said, “The region’s priorities, as identified in GO TO 2040, have remained consistent.”
One key update to the plan, according to Reisinger, is an updated financial analysis on the major capital projects included in the plan, like the Elgin-O’Hare Western Bypass and the CTA Red Line extension to 130th. This analysis also shows “what revenues metropolitan Chicago can expect to fund the systematic enhancement, maintenance, and modernization of the system.” When CMAP considered current revenue sources, from 2015 until 2040, they found that the region “will only have $3.4 billion to spend on systematic enhancements, moving the system toward a state of good repair, and capacity expansion (major capital projects).” That’s just $136 million a year for every single road, transit, and bicycle and pedestrian project across the entire seven-county area.
Meanwhile, the list of projects in line for that money remains just as long as it ever was. CMAP removed three projects from the list, all of which were highways that were built, but then it added two new highway projects — the Illiana Tollway and the Circle Interchange Expansion (now under construction).
On the other hand, the region’s transit system has an equally long wish list of improvements, none of which have been crossed off during the past four years. That’s even though the Regional Transportation Authority estimates that $20 billion is necessary to bring just the existing transit infrastructure into a state of good repair. Clearly, business as usual will not sustain the region’s infrastructure.
CMAP continues to recommend four new revenue streams that would generate $38.8 billion by 2040, which would be enough to fulfill the region’s infrastructure needs:
- State motor fuel tax increase, and eventual replacement: raising the state gas tax by eight cents now, then indexing increases to inflation, and in the long term replacing the fuel tax entirely, since vehicle fuel economy and fuel mix are both moving away from fossil fuels.
- Congestion pricing on new capacity and portions of the existing system: tolling new expressway lanes to “preserve their capacity over time” and to fund the new lanes and corridor-wide improvements.
- Performance-based funding: IDOT arbitrarily spends exactly 55 percent of its resources on Chicagoland, even though the region “has the vast majority of state’s population and economic activity.” IDOT can implement a change through its own regulations.
- Variable parking pricing: local governments can charge different prices for parking depending on demand, and use the resulting funds for infrastructure projects.
Reisinger said the update also includes a revised “implementation action area” table that outlines who is responsible for doing what. Additionally, CMAP calls on the General Assembly to quit relying on “infrequent state capital program bills [which create] inconsistent funding levels that complicate long-term” transportation planning.
One transit project that might get a jump start thanks to the GO TO 2040 update is the West Loop Transportation Center. It was long envisioned as a new, underground transitway under Clinton & Canal Streets, but in the new plan has been divided into two parts. The first part creates new capacity at Union Station, and would allow for more through-train service — which would be much faster than the current arrangement, wherein all trains terminate at Union Station. The second, bigger part of the WLTC would include the multi-level transit way.
One outside group sees the update as a chance to advance big new ideas for the region’s infrastructure. The Midwest High Speed Rail Association has urged CMAP to include CrossRail to the plan’s list of fundable projects.