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Posts from the "State Policy" Category

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Quinn Borrows $1.1 Billion to Keep IDOT’s Steamrollers Going

Governor Quinn Signs $1.1 Billion   Capital Construction Bill

Governor Pat Quinn signs the bill in front of workers at the Circle Interchange construction site today. Photo: IDOT

Governor Pat Quinn signed two bills today that allow the state to issue $1.1 billion in general obligation bonds to spend on highway resurfacing, widening, and bridge repair. The bills explicitly exclude transit from the new funds, and while they don’t seem to exclude bike lanes, trails, or sidewalks, all of the funds are already obligated to car-centric road projects [PDF].

Erica Borggren, acting secretary for the Illinois Department of Transportation, said in a press release, “This construction program is the shot in the arm that our transportation system and our economy needs.”

What the economy and our transportation system also need is an efficient and sustainable way for users to pay the system’s ongoing costs — rather than a stopgap that socks future taxpayers, whether transit riders or pedestrians or drivers, with big loan payments. Keep in mind that today, Illinois has the country’s worst credit rating, and thus pays the highest interest rate of any state — 42 percent more interest than usual.

Springfield’s State Journal-Register reported that “the plan got overwhelming support in the final days of the legislative session, though some lawmakers were concerned that they didn’t have enough time to study where the money would go.” The answer, as with most anything related to IDOT spending, is “overwhelmingly Downstate.”

Just over four percent of the funds will be spent in Chicago, home to 22 percent of the state’s population. Most of that will go to reconstruct and replace the bridges and viaducts on the Stevenson Expressway (I-55), between the Dan Ryan Expressway (I-94) and South Lake Shore Drive. $700,000 will be spent to resurface 0.6 miles of South Michigan Avenue in Washington Park.

Just under 37 percent of the funds will be spent in the six-county Chicagoland area, and the majority of that will go to exurbs and rural areas. This might prove convenient for Quinn during an election year, especially given the dwindling fund balance in his signature “Illinois Jobs Now!” program. The program has just $115 million left to spend, according to IDOT spokesperson Paris Ervin.

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CMAP Tells IDOT: “To Each Municipality, According to Their Needs”

Urbanity fails again.

Uneven pavement abounds in Chicagoland. Photo: Josh Koonce

The Illinois Department of Transportation, whose secretary resigned last week after accusations about patronage hiring, distributed $545 million in gas tax revenue to fix streets in almost 3,000 jurisdictions last year. While this sounds like a lot of money, poor road and bridge conditions across the state can attest to the fact that these funds might not be going to the places that need them most. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the region’s federally designated metropolitan planning organization, has recently written about different methods that IDOT could use to more fairly distribute these revenues across the state’s cities and counties.

CMAP’s regional comprehensive plan, GO TO 2040, implemented for the first time a system of performance measures to make sure that transportation funding generally goes to where it’s needed, instead of just where it’s wanted. In that spirit, CMAP suggests a few alternatives to the state’s existing distribution mechanism, which state law currently divvies up based mostly on population as well as the number of licensed vehicles and street mileage. The current system steers 71 percent of statewide gas tax revenue to the seven-county CMAP region.

This “formula funding” mechanism, CMAP says, ignores the transportation system’s changing needs. Plus, since the percentages are set in law, that means that fund distributions “cannot respond to changing needs over time.” For example, 16.74 percent of the $545 million in annual gas tax revenue goes to the one Illinois county with over one million residents — Cook County. Meanwhile, DuPage County has grown to 932,000 residents, and could reach one million residents before 2040. When that happens, DuPage would become eligible for that 16.74 percent slice, and Cook could see its own revenue cut in half overnight, even though its streets would remain heavily used by suburbanites driving into the region’s core for work or play. 

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Architect Urges Big-Picture, Design Thinking For North Lake Shore Drive

Redefine the Drive May_boulevard detail section

Krause suggests dipping Lake Shore Drive below ground at interchanges, with the Inner Drive and a new light rail line staying at street level. Image: John Krause

Local architect John Krause sees the reconstruction of North Lake Shore Drive, one of Chicago’s most scenic locations, as a chance to think big — not just about the road, but also about parks, transit, trails, the shoreline, and the future of the city alongside it. The Illinois Department of Transportation isn’t used to thinking like that, though, and so Krause sees its “Redefine the Drive” project as a process “that looks and feels suboptimal.”

IDOT is currently in the study phase of a decade-long project that will recreate both the boulevard and access to Lincoln Park. It will be years until IDOT has a refined design, so as a first step IDOT must identify what, exactly, they want to do — what they call a Purpose and Needs Statement for the project. Krause is on one of the project task forces, and helped bring to light that IDOT’s original objectives focused on personal vehicle congestion and traffic issues, and was blind to the road’s effects upon parks, the Lakefront Trail, and citywide mobility.

Krause has crafted an alternative vision – one of two, the other by VOA Associates – to redesign the Drive [PDF]. He created it to start a broader conversation about not just how to rebuild a road, but instead to create a legacy project for Chicago that could reimagine both how people move along the lakefront, as well as the lakefront itself.

The way the system is set up, the design team can’t discuss the project with the public, engineering firms are afraid to get involved for fear of being conflicted out of the future project, and the amateur general public is invited to give our unqualified opinions [at public meetings].

“It’s a shame,” he says, “that there isn’t more public engagement of talented designers in this important process.” He adds that a competition, similar to one hosted by the Chicago Architecture Foundation to solicit designs for Central Loop BRT stations, “might be a way to get Chicago’s professional designers involved.”

IDOT’s study approach started off by lamenting the delays and congestion drivers experienced, Krause says, and so was “propagating a [highway] status quo…that has been discredited for a long time. Great design often emerges through collaboration among people with complementary skills and viewpoints. In this case, maybe civil engineers, transit planners, urbanists, park designers,” and others could work together, rather than letting IDOT’s highway engineers run the show.

A recent example of how IDOT has not looked outside its professional silo occurred at a recent task force meeting. As Krause describes it, “lots of people are pushing for a dedicated transit lane, but no one from the CTA is allowed to offer any guidance or encouragement. To be fair, I know that CTA and CDOT are struggling with IDOT behind closed doors, but whatever is said there has no impact on either the general public or the city’s design professionals.”

Krause says Redefine the Drive needs to redefine the entire lakefront as well. It “needs some real headline attractions… new features that would show up on a tourist brochure of things to do in Chicago.” Or, more importantly, he says, “things that would get the mayor and Friends of the Parks to stand up to IDOT” and get them to do something other than “business as usual” highway-paving.

As an example of what broader thinking could bring to the Redefine the Drive process, Krause has illustrated his own conceptual idea of what the North Lake Shore Drive study area could become. His proposal divides the area, which reaches from Grand Avenue at Navy Pier on the south up to Hollywood Avenue on the north, into four sections.

One principal component of Krause’s scheme is a light rail transit route down the center of the Drive, which would help meet the mobility needs of nearly 70,000 people each weekday. Stops would be spaced every 1/4 to 1/2 mile, including stops at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Lincoln Park Zoo, and Edgewater Sports Campus. Throughout his scheme, Krause suggests dipping the Drive below each interchange, removing the elevated bridges that block views towards the lake. The rail line would continue at grade, so that trains will align with bus stops and sidewalks at ground level.

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New License Law Requires Teens To Take Driver Education Classes

Drivers License -Teen driver

All Illinois teens must take at least six hours of driver education, although it can happen online. Photo: State Farm

A new graduated driver licensing law takes effect in Illinois tomorrow. Illinois’s GDL law sets restrictions on young drivers, including when and with whom they can drive. After “graduating” through several time periods and getting more on-road experience, new drivers can eventually obtain a full driver’s license. Secretary of State Jesse White said in a press release [PDF] today that the state’s GDL has led to a 60 percent drop in “teen driving fatalities” since its 2008 introduction. The new law followed from a years-long editorial campaign from the Chicago Tribune about the high number of teenagers who are killed or injured in car crashes.

Until today, Illinois residents aged 18-20 could apply for, and receive, a driver’s license without any formal education beforehand. 16-17 year-olds have always been required to take driver education before receiving a license. Now, all teenagers must take at least six hours of education courses – available in person or online – before applying for a driver’s license.

Shockingly, 49 percent of 18-20 year-olds who received driver’s licenses in Illinois last year did not take driver education. The new requirement should further reduce the number of teenagers injured or killed in car crashes, and improve young drivers’ understanding of traffic laws.

A U.S. Public Interest Research Group study suggested that GDLs contributed to a drop in the number of miles driven by teenagers, and the rate at which teens apply for a driver’s license. University of Michigan researchers mention GDLs as one reason why many teens are skipping getting a license, or getting them later.

The six hour education course covers topics like:

  • traffic laws
  • highway signs
  • signals and markings
  • issues commonly associated with motor vehicle accidents, including speed, failure to yield the right-of-way, and texting while driving
  • alcohol and drug awareness

This is a great move by the state legislature to better standardize the knowledge that Illinois drivers bring to the road. Online classes might not be perfect — but they will usually do a better job than family or friends at addressing safety, whether it’s maneuvering among bicyclists, stopping for pedestrians within the crosswalk, or dealing with less-common on-road situations like roundabouts.

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CMAP Plan Update Includes Sobering Look at Region’s Funding Shortfall

Milwaukee Elevated Track Work - May 31/Jun 1

The RTA estimates the CTA, Metra, and Pace need $20 billion to bring their transit systems into a “state of good repair.” Photo: CTA

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).

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Ben Ross: Citizen Activism Can Overcome NIMBY Opposition to Transit

index

“Dead End” by Ben Ross.

At a talk Wednesday at City Lit Books, transit advocate Ben Ross, author of the new book “Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism,” discussed the battle for a new light rail line in the D.C. suburbs. This well-run campaign offers lessons for Chicagoans pushing for sensible transportation and development policy, whether the issue is bus rapid transit on Ashland Avenue, or high-density housing near ‘L’ stations.

Ross works as a consultant on environmental issues, and for 15 years he served as president of Maryland’s Action Committee for Transit, which grew to become the country’s largest transit advocacy group during the fight to build the Purple Line. This 16-mile line, which has been in the works for more than two decades, will extend from Bethesda to New Carrollton, paralleling the D.C. Beltway and connecting several existing rapid transit, commuter rail, and Amtrak lines.

At the event, Ross discussed how the Purple Line campaign in affluent Montgomery County influenced “Dead End.” The book covers the history of American suburbanization and how urbanism can address 21st Century transportation and housing challenges.

“The Purple Line was very controversial, mainly because it went through the golf course of one of the most expensive country clubs in Washington D.C.” he said. The opposition was well-funded, and in 1994, residents elected a county executive who was against the project, and a nine-seat county council with a bare one-person majority in favor of it. “At that point, most people gave the project up for dead.”

However, ACT succeeded in resurrecting the rail line. The coalition outed the country club as the main source of the opposition by standing in front of their main entrance with signs during the morning rush hour. In 1998, the committee printed 20,000 scorecards rating the candidates’ positions on the Purple Line and other transit issues. The county council picked up another vote in favor of the project, for a six-to-three majority, with one of the six saying crediting the scorecard for his margin of victory.

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State Rep Tries to Dock Block Divvy Stations in Front of Schools

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Jaime Andrade

In a case of thinking locally and acting globally, state rep Jaime Andrade (40th) introduced legislation that would have banned the installation of bike-share stations in front of all Illinois schools, not long after a Divvy station was placed by the school he co-founded.

Last year, the Chicago Department of Transportation installed the Divvy station at the Cardinal Bernadin Early Childhood Center, a Catholic Montessori school located at 1651 West Diversey, in a no parking zone near the building’s Paulina entrance. Andrade, whose district includes parts of the Northwest Side but not the school, describes himself as a founding member of the school’s board in his bio on the Illinois General Assembly’s website.

On May 21, Andrade sponsored HB6239, a bill that would have amended the Illinois Municipal Code with the following language:

No bicycle sharing system may operate a docking station in an area with posted signs that expressly prohibit parking at any time or during certain hours that is adjacent to any elementary or secondary school in any municipality.

The bill also included a provision against local municipalities overriding the ban via home rule.

When I talked to Andrade yesterday, he said he’s a actually a fan of Divvy. “It’s a great, great program,” he said. “I think we should keep expanding bike-share all over the city and the state.” He added that he used to ride a bike in Chicago before a knee injury stopped him, usually gets around by public transportation and carpooling, and his car is a 1985 Chevy Cavalier that probably wouldn’t even survive the trip to the state capital.

Andrade said the bill was intended to address safety issues. “It’s strictly saying that the stations should not be in front of schools in the no-parking zone,” he said. He argued that bike-share stations could be an obstruction in the case of a fire, and that the stations’ advertising placards block the sightlines for children crossing the street.

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Quinn Tying State’s Hands to Preempt Potential Illiana Roadblocks

illiana fact sheet about proposed legislation

The fact sheet Quinn distributed to Illinois lawmakers and obtained by Crain’s and Capitol Fax.

Governor Pat Quinn is doing everything he can to ensure that the Illiana Tollway will be built, no matter what. The Illinois General Assembly gave the state permission in 2010 to pursue a public-private partnership with a private company to build and operate the tollway, but now Quinn has proposed new legislation that gives the tollway new special privileges.

The Illinois Department of Transportation is already committing at least $250 million in taxpayer money for the multi-billion dollar tollway, which will pave over 47 miles of farmland in Illinois and Indiana. The new legislation will make sure that the Illiana will be first in line for funds, ahead of all other state-supported transportation projects — even those that IDOT has deemed urgent.

The Illinois Department of Transportation’s own studies say that 43 percent of potential customers would avoid the road, and thus the road will serve fewer daily drivers than Irving Park Road in Chicago. However, as Crain’s reports, IDOT insists that toll revenues will pay for the highway’s construction by 2040, at which time the highway will “allow IDOT to invest excess toll revenue on other transportation projects.”

The new legislation also ties the state’s hands should something go wrong with the operator, since it would send any contract disputes to private arbitrators rather than the state’s own Court of Claims. The upshot for the private operator is that their financial and legal risk will be minimal.

The legislation’s fact sheet says that, should the bill pass, Illinois’ state transportation funds would go first to existing debt obligations, then to the Illiana operator, and only then (if any is remaining) to IDOT’s priorities, like repaving roads or purchasing new transit buses. Senator Matt Murphy of Palatine told Crain’s: “Irregardless of where your project is in the pipeline, this would knock it back one. The more we learn about this proposed public/private partnership, the more questions it raises.”

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Illiana Boondoggle Now Guaranteed to Cost Taxpayers At Least $250 Million

Gantry on Triangle Expressway

A recent agreement mandates electronic tolling for the Illiana, with no cash payment option. New toll roads, like this one near Durham, N.C., have electronic tolls and traffic counts far below expectations. Photo: NC DOT/Flickr

Remember the “innovative” public-private partnership Governor Quinn lauded as a way to build the “21st century” Illiana Expressway, without shifting the entire cost onto the general public? Or remember CMAP’s statement opposing the project, based on its contradictory growth projections, overestimated benefit to the region, and severe financial risk, and the multiple op-eds and articles that followed, all expressing concern about the expressway’s ability to garner enough toll revenue to pay for itself?

It appears that the Illiana project, extolled by the governor and IDOT as a way to invigorate the south suburban economy by building a privately-financed and operated expressway, will actually involve even more public dollars than we imagined.

The terms of the public-private partnership devised for the Illiana have already been condemned in the local media. The project’s backers cite the eventual selection of a private developer to design, construct, and operate the expressway as a way to relieve the public from paying for the project; indeed, its “private financing” is perhaps why the project could even be contemplated by a state with huge debts. But a Toll Sensitivity Analysis [PDF] released by IDOT last November shows that the Illiana will cost four times as much to drive on as nearby tollways. Any business would have a hard time staying open by charging four times as much as nearby, more convenient competitors.

Unless that business is road building in Illinois, of course. An agreement between Illinois and Indiana now commits a minimum of $250 million in Illinois dollars to the project. Indiana’s DOT has also committed $80–$110 million to the project; together, this amounts to at least a third of the project’s currently projected cost of $1 billion. If toll revenue fails to live up to expectations, the public may be on the hook for much, much more.

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Don’t Despair, Evanston & Oak Park May Still Get Divvy Stations

Chicago Divvy Bikes July 2013 (60)

Divvy bikes and rebalancing van. Photo by Pam Broviak via flickr

Last month, it was a bummer when the Illinois Department of Transportation announced $52.7 million in funding for transportation projects, including many bike and pedestrian projects, but the expansion of Divvy into the suburbs wasn’t one of them. However, officials say they’re hopeful money can be found to extend the system past the city limits.

Chicago, Evanston, and Oak Park collaborated on an application for a $3 million Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program grant to buy 75 more bike-share stations. About 20 of these would have been installed in the two suburbs, and many more would have been placed in Chicago’s Garfield Park, Austin, and Rogers Park communities to connect the suburban stations with the existing network.

While a significant chunk of the federally funded ITEP money went to more than a dozen worthy bikeway, sidewalk and streetscape improvements in the Chicago region, no urban bike projects got funding. In a blog post, Active Transportation Alliance director Ron Burke celebrated the suburban wins, but expressed disappointment that the Divvy grant was turned down, since Evanston and Oak Park are ideal candidates for bike-share. “Both suburbs have high densities and ample transit stations, which are key ingredients for generating bike share trips that occur solely within each suburb,” he wrote.

Last Thursday, Mayor Emanuel announced that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois will be paying $12.5 million to sponsor Divvy, and the money will be used for expanding the system, as well as other cycling improvements. However, Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Pete Scales told me that money won’t be used for suburban bike-share stations. “Evanston and Oak Park will be responsible for the costs of their stations and operations, and we will be working with them to find other funds for the expansion,” he said.

IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell attributed the failure of the Divvy ITEP grant proposal to an extremely competitive application process, estimating that two-thirds of the applications didn’t get approved. “[Bike-share] is a concept we’re enthusiastically behind,” he told me. “Anything that encourages more bike use is something we wholeheartedly endorse. It’s just a matter of finding a funding option that fits.”

Tridgell said IDOT is currently in talks with CDOT, Evanston and Oak Park about funding options. The tab for Divvy’s first 475 stations, 300 of which are already installed, plus various startup costs, is $30.5 million. These expenses have been bankrolled by federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement grants and Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery funds, plus a 20-percent local match. The state awards ITEP grants roughly once per year, so that’s another future possibility, Tridgell said.