Local leaders say don’t panic — yet — about how the Trump presidency will affect Chicagoland transportation.
It’s hard to predict what last night’s election means for the future of sustainable transportation in the U.S. But as Streetsblog editor-in-chief Ben Fried wrote this morning, the fact that the Republican party doesn’t rely on city dwellers for votes, and the president-elect’s rural base doesn’t include many fans of better transit and walkable, bikeable streets, is not a good sign.
Amid all the shock over the unexpected election results, news of another significant development for Illinois transportation got lost in the shuffle. Voters in this state passed the so-called Safe Roads Amendment ballot initiative by nearly 80 percent, far more than the 60 percent needed to make it law.
This controversial amendment to the Illinois constitution will require that all funds collected through gas taxes, tolls, driver’s license fees, and city stickers be captured in a “lockbox” to prevent them from being used for non-transportation purposes. The ballot question asked citizens if they supported earmarking this revenue for “administering laws related to vehicles and transportation, costs for construction, reconstruction, maintenance, repair, and betterment of public highways, roads, streets, bridges, mass transit, intercity passenger rail, ports, airports, or other forms of transportation, and other statutory highway purposes.”
Originally the Metropolitan Planning Council, the Active Transportation Alliance, and the Center for Neighborhood Technology supported the amendment, arguing that it would grow the overall transportation budget, which could mean more money for walking, biking, and transit. They also argued that the lockbox would help build support for raising the gas tax by insuring the revenue would go to transportation, not other needs or pet projects. Initially, I was a supporter as well.
But Chicago’s two major newspapers oppose the initiative, arguing that the campaign was fueled by cronyism between lawmakers and road-building and labor interests, and that politicians shouldn’t need a constitutional amendment to force them into fiscal discipline.
Other organizations and progressive commentators, including Streetsblog’s Steven Vance, pointed out other additional issues with the amendment. They argued proponents has misrepresented how much money had been previously diverted from the transportation fund, and that tying lawmakers’ hands on spending decisions could cause problems if a real financial crisis or natural disaster arises.
They noted that the language of the legislation didn’t specify whether walking, biking, and transportation funding would be eligible for funding, or whether local governments would be able to spend transportation revenue on things like streetlamps and snow plowing. Eventually the Center for Neighborhood Technology dropped their support for the amendment, as did I.