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Beyond Chicagoland

The Next Governor of Illinois Is a Total Mystery on Transportation

Rich guy Bruce Rauner running for Illinois governor
Rauner at a Metropolitan Planning Council forum. Photo: Steven Vance

Billionaire Republican Bruce Rauner is going to be the next governor of Illinois, and it’s not yet clear what that means for transit, biking, and walking in the Prairie State. Rauner avoided taking positions on transportation issues for the most part and failed to return a candidate survey from the Active Transportation Alliance. However, his stated goal of cutting taxes could mean less funding for transportation infrastructure of all kinds.

As of this morning, Rauner had 50.6 percent of the vote to incumbent Pat Quinn’s 46 percent, with 99 percent of the state’s precincts reporting, the Tribune reported.

Quinn leaves, at best, a mixed legacy on transportation. As governor, he pushed hard for a number of car-centric projects -- most notably the disastrous Illiana Tollway proposal -- as a strategy to garner votes. Under his watch, the Illinois Department of Transportation blocked the construction of protected bike lanes on its streets, though it has since changed its policy. Quinn also recently granted $3 million for Divvy expansion.

In his response to the Active Trans candidate questionnaire, Quinn said all the right things. He voiced support for better conditions for sustainable transportation, noted that Illinois is a “Complete Streets” state, and said he does not support widening roads as a strategy to improve mobility.

Governor Pat Quinn
Quinn at the MPC forum. Photo: Steven Vance

However, Quinn’s actions did not always match his words. IDOT has widened dozens of miles of roads throughout the suburbs, and even widened Harrison Street in Chicago’s South Loop. The department pushed hard for the $475 million Circle Interchange Expansion, and the governor has tirelessly lobbied for the $1.3 billion Illiana tollway boondoggle, which is certain to divert funding from far more important transportation priorities, especially transit projects.

Rauner, meanwhile, is something of a cipher when it comes to transportation. His campaign strategy was to say as little as possible about issues that he had not previously taken a stance on, and he declined to respond to the Active Trans survey.

One thing we know about Rauner is that he wants to cut state income taxes, which could diminish funding for transportation infrastructure. “This election is about bringing back our great state,” he told supporters during his victory celebration last night. “This is a victory for our taxpayers who need to have a lower tax burden.”

At a candidate forum in August sponsored by the Illinois Agricultural Legislative Roundtable, Rauner did say that one of his top priorities would be rebuilding Illinois’s roads, bridges, and other public works, the Tribune reported. "We should have billions of dollars every year as part of our budget process… [to] maintain and expand our infrastructure," he said. He did not explain how this goal was compatible with lower taxes, although though he did say he would be open to the possibility of borrowing money to fund projects, as well as forming public-private partnerships.

At the forum, Quinn warned that Rauner would not be able to could cut taxes and increase infrastructure spending at the same time. Quinn cautioned that if lost the election, it would be "Siberia when it comes to investment in public services."

There's no such thing as free infrastructure. If Rauner cuts taxes and there's less money to go around, there will be less spending on transportation. Whether the cuts will fall on billion-dollar mistakes like the Illiana or cost-effective transit and active transportation projects remains to be seen.

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