Why Rauner’s Witholding of Funding for Bike-Ped Bridges Totally SOCCs

Rendering of the 41st Street pedestrian bridge, a project that is on hold because of IDOT's refusal to release additional SOCC funding
Rendering of the 41st Street pedestrian bridge, a project that is on hold because of IDOT's refusal to release additional SOCC funding

Last week the Chicago Tribune reported on how the state of Illinois’ refusal to chip in an additional $2 million for the planned 41st Street pedestrian bridge over Lake Shore Drive is delaying the project, which the city hoped to start constructing this spring. Recalcitrance from the state could also affect plans to repair LSD’s Wilson and Lawrence viaducts this summer.

Now the Chicago Department of Transit says there’s a larger issue here that threatens several other planned Chicago infrastructure improvements: the state’s refusal to follow through with its longstanding commitment to provide the city with $40 million a year from the Illinois road fund. This promise, which dates back to the 1990s, is called the State Only Chicago Commitment or SOCC.

As the Tribune reported, CDOT commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld says the additional $2 million from the Illinois Department of Transportation is needed for the Bronzeville bike and pedestrian bridge because the lowest bid for the project was nearly 24 percent higher than expected.

An IDOT spokesperson attributed the additional cost for the 41st Street bridge to “budgeting errors” by CDOT and noted that the state has already allocated $6 million for the project, according to the Trib. The city originally estimated the construction and labor costs for the project would be $23.2 million, but the lowest bid was $28.7 million.

Factoring in additional costs such as design costs and safety measures needed for working over the rail lines, the state now estimates the total cost for the project is currently $39 million. However, the city projects the total will only come to $34 million.

Rendering of an aerial view of the 41st Street bridge
Rendering of an aerial view of the 41st Street bridge

Scheinfeld said IDOT is wrong the blame the cost increase on bad planning by CDOT, noting that the state signed off on the plans for the project. Instead, she blamed the increase on the complexity of building the serpentine bridge over multiple railroad tracks and the eight-lane highway, as well as the high demand for construction services due to the current residential building boom. She added that IDOT’s refusal to contribute the extra $2 million puts $18 million in federal funding at risk.

Last week Congressmen Danny Davis, whose district includes the 41st Street bridge site, and Mike Quigley, the only Illinois member of a key House committee for transportation funding, wrote to Governor Rauner asking him to release funds for the bridge and other projects. The politicians argued the state’s current policy of withholding State Only Chicago Commitment funds, which started in January, jeopardizes $300 million in local infrastructure projects. The letter says that $105 million in SOCC money was supposed to be used to leverage $166 million in federal grants.

Among these projects are the badly deteriorated Lake Shore Drive viaducts at Wilson and Lawrence, which were originally built in 1933. Currently there have been issues with chunks of concrete falling from the ceilings of the viaducts and endangering people below. CDOT has budgeted repairs for the two bridges at a total of $8.4 million, with roughly 71 percent supposed to come from the state and 29 percent from federal funds, according to spokesman Mike Claffey.

Claffey noted that SOCC money can be used for projects that directly or indirectly benefit the state roads system, and in the past IDOT has allowed the city to use this $40 million a year on many types of projects, including repaving, road bridges, and bike-ped bridges such as the 41st project. Most commonly, this funding has been used to provide the required twenty percent match for federal transportation funds. “It’s a critical funding source,” he said.

Claffey added that the SOCC program was originally created in recognition of the fact that Chicago is the economic engine for the region and the state, and that over a third of the city’s arterial streets are under IDOT jurisdiction but maintained by CDOT. He says that in January IDOT secretary Randy Blankenhorn informed the city that the state would not be approving the release of any SOCC funds from that point on. “This will put the great majority of CDOT’s capital program at risk because they rely on SOCC to provide the required local match for federal transportation (Surface Transportation Project) funding,” Claffey said.

Rendering of the Riverview Bridge on the Norht Branch of the Chicago River near Addision.
Rendering of the Riverview Bridge on the Norht Branch of the Chicago River near Addision.

Claffey said the new IDOT policy is impacting projects that are already under construction, as well as those that are being designed or are supposed to start construction soon. This includes repaving of main streets, bridge inspection and maintenance, road bridge and viaduct replacements, and new bike and pedestrian bridges. In addition to the 41st Street bridge, the latter category includes the Riverview Bridge on the Chicago River near Addison, and the reconstruction of Lake Shore Drive’s bridge over the main branch of the Chicago River as part of the Navy Pier Flyover project.

Claffey said CDOT is concerned that the state has been withholding the SOCC funding for political reasons. In recent months Rauner has been sparring with Mayor Emanuel over the Chicago Public Schools budget and other funding issues.

The state’s refusal to release SOCC funds for the 41st Street bridge and other initiatives is completely counterproductive because it could result in overall higher construction costs, since the delay may require these projects to be rebid. As Davis and Quigley wrote in their letter, “Witholding these funds from Chicago, delaying project starts, and putting other projects at risk is not in the best interests of the residents and visitors to Chicago and will hurt the economy of the city, the region, and the state.

  • Jeremy

    Chicago needs to secede from Illinois. I think both sides would be happier.

  • Chicagoan

    Chicago is definitely held back by Springfield, I wish the latter empowered the former, in the way Albany empowers New York (For the most part, anyway.).

  • Chicagoan

    I just wish Governor Rauner and his staff would realize that projects like this enrich the communities in which they’re built and can create positive change.

    Just look at the New York Times’ article about La Villita Park and The 606.

  • ardecila

    Yes and no. There’s no question the new 35th St Bridge is iconic and inspiring, but does every bridge need to be a showpiece design? More to the point, do we really need to be building a pedestrian bridge at 41st AND 43rd? The existing bridge at 43rd is already a pretty simple, elegant design (although not wheelchair-accessible).

    The broader point of this article I agree with… the state shouldn’t be withholding this money for political reasons, especially if it is intended to maintain/improve IDOT roads anyway.

  • kastigar

    Why the focus on the Riverview Bridge near Addison? What about the Stone Bridge that planned for the North Shore Channel to join the bike path on the east and wide side of the channel?

    And what about the Weber Spur trail? This has to be the cheapest since it’s all surface and only needs paving?

  • crosspalms

    Simple, yes; elegant, no. Plus it’s falling apart, and its location next to senior citizens housing makes the not-wheelchair-accessible part pretty important. The design of the new bridges makes sense — they work as a system. And adding park access in a neighborhood that’s been growing for the 10 years I’ve lived here is a worthwhile investment.

  • ChicagoCyclist

    Uhmmm?…. “Pot calling the kettle black,” big-time! Rauner and his ilk can be so blatantly political / hypocritical! How many (every?) IDOT project goes over budget — and much more than this bridge has done. (Not that CDOT or the City of Chicago is an innocent lamb or a rationally run exemplar of “good government” or best transportation practice.) Overall, however, bicycle and pedestrian projects like this bridge are a miniscule part of surface transportation expenditure in Chicago, in Illinois, and in the nation — like around 1 or 2 percent, I believe.

  • Athanasios1

    Yes. It is good to enrich the rich with government funds. When will they build a bicycle flyover bridge for all the poor people in Hyde Park to bypass Englewood on their way to Homer Glen? Why not? They already have free express lanes on the Dan Ryan and the north-shore drivers have free express lanes on the Kennedy to their garden of EDENS to help them get home quickly to Lake Forest, Wilmette, Kenilworth and Highland Park. But the immigrant citizens in Lyons, Hodgkins, Cicero and Berwyn…IDOT will make those poor bastards pay to use an express lane on I-55.

  • Athanasios1

    It is always nice for elitist if not wealthy north-side and Bronzeville residents to receive expensive “bicycle” bridges to commute to their posh offices where they can shower and change before their “power breakfasts” where they will make plans for more meetings and lunches. Yes. Screw the poor people and don’t supplement the Ventra cards they use for going back and forth to cheap food pantries and missions with free meals . Its good to be the Emperor. If all these bicycling anal pores are so into biking, can.t they get a little more exercise and use existing bridges? Sure. Blame the Governor. Can’t you elitists blame Bush anymore?

  • Jacob Wilson

    Downstate would become a theocratic wasteland like most of the south. As much as I love the idea I fear for anyone other than old, rich, white men who would have to live there.

  • Carter O’Brien

    John is just pointing out the project is being delayed, the Riverview Bridge has been in the works for years, and in fact was not the bridge that either the Clark Park advisory council nor bike commuters wanted, there was a formal Addison Corridor plan the City had endorsed prior to Rahm that included not one but TWO bike-ped bridges to actually cross the river, at Roscoe and I believe George before the fancy boathouse went in.

  • JacobEPeters

    Except that most cycling is most popular for poor people http://www.vox.com/2014/7/9/5883823/its-not-just-hipsters-on-bikes-cycling-is-most-popular-for-poor-people because of the low cost of entry compared to driving. These improvements are in order to make cycling a safer more appealing option for everyone. IDOT is literally withholding funds, that is precisely something that can be blamed on the Governor. Infrastructure spending is separate from the cuts to social services that Rauner personally has made, which have directly impacted the food pantries, missions, & public schools that this city’s poor rely on. Before you start calling people elitist, maybe stop defending a billionaire who is bankrupting the state on the back of tax cuts for the rich?

  • JacobEPeters

    I believe the connection along the river from Grace to Roscoe as originally envisioned was killed because it would provide fewer connections than a path on the east bank can in the short term to Addison & in the long term to Bradley Place. Those 2 bike-ped bridges you mention still would make sense as we push to see new riverfront segments connected to the south.

    All of these connections from Devon down to Fullerton are low hanging fruit in the grand scheme of things. Lots of existing paths that need little improvements, & some short gaps that if bridged (pun intended) could give us an almost 6 mile corridor of continuous safe cycling routes.

  • JacobEPeters

    you’re right in that all of our express lanes should be tolled (but unfortunately I don’t think that was the point you were trying to make)

  • Fuegofan

    You don’t seem to realize that Bronzeville isn’t exactly the Gold Coast. This bridge helps connect a neighborhood that is traditionally underserved to amenities on the Lakefront. And rather than simply a functional, ugly bridge, it’s functional and artistic.

  • Carter O’Brien

    I am all for better river connectivity and that river bridge will be welcomed, but an east-west bike bridge alternative to Diversey, Belmont and Addison wouldn’t be mobbed by commuters (and used by pedestrians and pleasure riders). As originally envisioned it extended the now dead-ending bike lane going west on Roscoe all the way to the bike lanes on Kedzie.

    It was definitely killed due to the boat house, just look where they placed it. CPAC can confirm, and you can read 30+ pages of back story and argument over this at the Chainlink forum from back in 2012: http://www.thechainlink.org/forum/topics/save-the-garden-petition-clark-bike-park-in-chicago-in-danger-of?id=2211490%3ATopic%3A528878&page=1#comments

    The Garden area was ultimately a distraction from the main event, WMS (which donated either $1m or $2m to the boat house, I forget) vying to get the City to deed them that tiny strip of Roscoe between California and the River, which they use as parking, to “relieve the City the burden” of shoveling and maintaining it. Guessing the DeVry expansion – which has resulted in a ridiculous uptick in traffic btw, also was a factor.

    Keep an eye on that strip of California – we will be.

  • Chicagoan

    Shoo.

  • Chicagoan

    This is a pedestrian bridge in Bronzeville, as much as I love the Black Metropolis and consider it one of Chicago’s great neighborhoods, have you been to Bronzeville?

  • kevd

    “the way Albany empowers New York”
    I think most New Yorkers feel the same way about Albany as you do about Springfield.

  • Chicagoan

    Springfield is a complete mess in the way that Albany couldn’t imagine. The State of New York has a budget. I think that power brokers in Albany understand the economic importance of New York, while some power brokers in Springfield that aren’t from Chicago actively work to harm the city.

  • Sfgeoninja

    We absolutely do. Albany is also the only reason we don’t have congestion pricing

  • kevd

    right. I forgot about that one.
    They also levy taxes for our transportation system that they then refuse to give to that transportation system.

  • kevd

    I’m not familiar with Illinois’ particular brand of disfunction. And I don’t mean to diminish that, or your state government’s self-serving corruption in any way.

    But, I still think you’re overestimating the competence of the NY State government. Heck, our former Senate majority leader and Assembly speaker are both in prison. Our governor shut down a corruption probe because it was doing its job too well. The sentiment in NYC is nearly universally “we’d be far better off if we could just secede”

  • Chicagoan

    Fair enough, thank you for the NY insight!

    I get the feeling that a lot of American cities would be better off if they could secede, which is an indictment on the American attitude toward them.

  • planetshwoop

    This highlights the need for significant improvements in E-W connections on the North Side. There are few safe ways to go cross-town, and the routes that do exist are typically in busy lanes.

    The bike network we’re building shouldn’t replicate the errors of the El, where pretty much everything is organized around going to/from the Loop.

  • FlamingoFresh

    Can we get an article about the failure of transportation projects being accurately estimated for it’s construction and implementation? I have a feeling that this happens way more often than we think.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Absolutely. The 800 lb gorilla here is IDOT unfortunately. They specifically seem to have a problem with the concept of demarcated bike space when you are near expressway entrances/exits, which is of course exactly where the problems are as a cyclist. It’s completely illogical as it’s not like the bike lanes on Milwaukee keep people off of 90/94, and the two basically run parallel for a huge stretch.

  • neroden

    There’s a pretty simple response available to CDOT.

    Completely discontinue CDOT-funded maintenance on streets owned by IDOT, which IDOT (not CDOT) is legally required to maintain.

    Should save enough money to pay for the CDOT projects.

  • neroden

    Not-wheelchair-accessible is a no-go-no-way these days.

    Wheelchair accessible is mandatory.

  • neroden

    The balance in Illinois is weirder than that.

    In actual fact, the Quad Cities and East St. Louis are pretty darn left-wing and so are the college towns (Bloomington/Normal, Champaign). As with everywhere, the rural areas are theocratic wastelands but they also have very low populations.

    Your political problem is actually the Chicago *suburbs*, the collar counties and the far-out suburbs.

  • neroden

    Albany’s a disaster. People don’t even like Albany in upstate NY, y’know.

    I won’t describe the politics of upstate NY in detail, but suffice it to say that *every single city*, even those as small as 20,000 population, votes left-wing, and so does the North Country (up near Montreal). Some really intense and abusive gerrymandering has been done to keep Republicans in power in the State Senate.

  • neroden

    Ah, Albany’s different. One of the keys is that back in the 1950s (IIRC) a governor pushed through a state constitutional amendment which meant that if the legislature didn’t pass a budget, the governor’s budget simply went into effect until they got around to it.

    This eliminated the stupid budget crises which you have in Illinois. The legislature still didn’t pass budgets on time for, oh, 30 years or so.

    In NY, the legislature is routinely found to be the most corrupt and most dysfunctional in the nation. However, NY has a “strong governor” system so it often doesn’t matter.

    The checks and balances on the NY governor are the separately-elected Attorney General and Comptroller, both of whom tend to rise politically if they successfully catch the Governor in criminal activity; they are completely independent powerbases with their own recurring funding (not under the Governor’s control). So the Governors are under high pressure to stay honest.

    So the system in NY works, but it works *despite* the legislature, which is hopeless. And the Governor of NY has more power than Rauner can imagine.

  • neroden

    The problem is, as it turns out, that the interests which are fighting against NYC are not actually upstate interests; they’re Long Island, Staten Island, and suburban NYC interests.

    This wasn’t as obvious 10 years ago; it’s completely blatant now. The upstate cities (Buffalo-Rochester-Syracuse-Binghamton-etc.) are basically on the side of NYC.

  • Kevin M

    Not so simply, politically. The people of Chicago are generally unaware of IDOT- vs. CDOT-owned streets in the city, so these abandoned IDOT streets would lead to people complaining to (read: blaming) the alderman and mayor, not Rauner/IDOT.

  • Kevin M

    I agree with this crude assessment of Illinois’ political landscape.

  • Carter O’Brien

    You are correct, but this could be the teachable moment & solid civics lesson people really need. It is irritating how IDOT views Chicago neighborhoods as nothing more than obstacles for people to travel through to get to the highway. CDOT and IDOT should be hanging their heads in collective shame at the disgrace that is Belmont between Kimball and the River, it’s like both of them seem to assume it’s some other guy’s job to properly stripe a left turn lane – or to stripe lanes at all!

  • Carter O’Brien

    We Annoyin’ Illinoisans are totally up for a “most state politicians in prison” challenge!

  • Jacob Wilson

    That’s true about the collar suburbs being the biggest problem. I guess I was playing the typical Chicagoan and considering everything out of cook county “downstate”. I think Cook county is much more closely aligned with Chicago politics than the collar counties which ideologically are closer to rural IL.

    I vote we keep the adjacent suburbs and the northshore in the annexation. The rest of the ‘burbs I think would be happy with the theocrats.

  • Fred

    If, as stated, the project is 68% over the original budget, IDOT should be hailed for not just cutting another check. There are very real and quite major financial problems at the state level and IDOT can’t fund every nice-to-have project, especially one that’s already derailed.

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