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.

  • Kevin M

    I’m dreading the news of Rauner announcing the cancellation of the two new Illinois Amtrak routes (Quad Cities & Rockford) that are pegged to launch within the next 1-2 years. They were mostly federally-funded, and I’m sure Rauner would win accolades (and millions) from Tea Baggers if he followed suite with the Walker/Kasich/Scott anti-train gang by sending Obama’s gift back to Washington.

    On Sunday, we set our clocks back 1 hour. Yesterday, we set the country & state back several decades.

  • This is probably a good to figure out what Rahm and Bruce have in common, since they didn’t seem to be enemies on the electoral trail.

  • Fred

    Rauner is only a half-billionaire.

    He’s generationally wealthy, a .01%er, but he is not a billionaire.

  • Anne A

    I’ve been looking forward to those new routes, so I really hope they don’t get killed off.

  • JacobEPeters

    I really don’t expect him to cancel passenger rail improvements, since he won largely by garnering the votes of people who otherwise voted democratic down the rest of the ballot. If he does cancel the progress being made on rail, then people will be able to hammer him for it in any upcoming election, undermining his fragile coalition of the frustrated.

  • Chris Chaten

    This a good opportunity for lobbying (in a positive sense. call it education if you prefer). I seriously doubt Rauner has any preconcieved/firm opinions on sustainable transit, bike lanes, etc. good or bad. He’s likely like 90% of the state and simply unaware of the considerations. He’s tight with Rahm, which is a good start, but ATA should get in the ear of the new administration early. There’s no real reason that active transit, a priori, has to be aligned with a particular political party. There are many empirical benifits that should sway a guy like Rauner.

  • Brad

    Yep, link to the newspaper that he once had control over and still attempts to exert his force on.

  • Rauner hasn’t disclosed his wealth, but his spokeman estimated Rauner’s wealth was “in the mid-nine figures”? I’m not sure a correction is warranted here.

  • Kevin M

    The reason why active transit has been fought against or ignored by the GOP for the last 6 years is because Obama supported it (and the GOP has been anti-anything-Obama for his entire 6-years in office), and because these initiatives were mostly aimed for cities–which tend to vote Democratic. 2008 broke new ground in active transit partisanship.

  • Well, since he hasn’t really defined himself… I’m inclined to think he would appoint someone with industry experience to head IDOT, then pretty much forget about it. In keeping with his campaign, this person would be extremely good at cost-cutting in the field.

    Trouble is, I’m pretty sure this person doesn’t really exist. The road industry and state governments have had a tacit agreement to justify road building in the guise of public improvements since asphalt was invented.

    If he’s really smart and thinking outside of the box, he’d put a disillusioned civil engineer like Chuck Marohn of StrongTowns in the position. I don’t see this happening, so I’m not sure what’ll happen.

  • Fred

    So mid-nine figures rounds to ten figures. Sort of like .5 rounds to 1. Only a factor of 100% difference. Congratulation anyone worth $500k, you’re now a millionaire!


  • oog

    The man spent $27,000,000 of his own money to be governor. Somehow I doubt he cares $27,000,000 dollars’ about transportation needs of urbanites.

  • High_n_Dry

    Can he really cancel those projects on his own? And wouldn’t that actually be harming the business community since contractors would lose work?

    I’m sure Madigan has some type of policy framework in place that would not allow a Governor to do such without his approval. (Kinda being sarcastic but not really.)

  • hello

    I cautiously think (and strongly hope) that he is not a dogmatic GOPer (or even Tea-Bagger) – meaning he is not wholesale against anything Democrats are for (public transit, etc.).

    If he actually is (dogmatic GOP or Tea-Bagger), he would have no chance of re-election (if he even desires it).

    Time will tell.

  • Illinois has a recent history of Republican governors who were quite moderate. Heck, George Ryan was practically a Liberal — he abolished the death penalty in Illinois, supported gun control, marched in the Pride Parade, and even traveled to Cuba to promote economic ties.

  • R.A. Stewart

    I would like to think Rauner might be a pragmatic, moderate Republican like other recent governors (as John noted); we still have some of those in Illinois. On the other hand, the default position even for Democrats is still pave everything in sight, push those roads further into the exurbs, and cut transit, although Democrats at least purse their lips and shake their heads sadly while making the cuts.

    There is also the matter of Rauner’s ties to the actively anti-transit Koch brothers, which I cited in a comment on Today’s Headlines a couple of posts down. So insofar as the next governor is a total mystery, it’s been both because he’s played it very close to the vest (which, to be fair, may be a strategy he’s carried over from the business world) and because the corporate media have been lax about digging into his background (any surprises there?).

    Personally, I think it’s going to be very bad times ahead for local transit and for passenger rail, both nationally and here in Illinois.

  • SP_Disqus

    Maybe Metra’s management is finally exhibiting some prescience. They are definitely going to have to raise fares just to cover operations once Rauner is done paying for his tax cuts.

  • C Monroe

    You would think that but he might instead be a Republican like Rick Snyder in Michigan who increased spending on Amtraks Michigan routes. But who knows?

  • Big Buck Hunter

    Maybe they should cut their insanely high labor costs

  • Big Buck Hunter

    Is it worth spending billions when bus service is just as fast, more reliable ands cheaper?

  • Alicia

    Are you explicitly saying their figures are in accurate? If so, what do you say the correct figures are?

    (Or maybe you’re just trying to suggest that the article is inaccurate without actually saying so.)

  • If bus service really were just as fast, more reliable, and cheaper, nobody would be building the train routes. For one thing, busses get stuck in highway congestion.

  • Yes, because they are supported monetarily by the Illinois Department of Transportation. Amtrak now requires a sizable portion of within-state or two-state routes to be supported by the states. Amtrak is also trying to get more costs of their 750+ mile routes covered by the states through which the trains pass.

  • Alicia

    Flint, MI to Chicago – about 5 hours, and $53 on Amtrak
    Flint to Chicago – 7-8 hours and $43 on a private bus (Indian Trails)

    So, cheaper, maybe, but not “just as fast”, and probably not more reliable.

  • Fred

    Chicago -> Ann Arbor: ($, h:mm)
    Amtrak: $34, 4:45
    Megabus: $35, 4:40
    Greyhound: $20, 5:00
    Indian Trails: $70, 8:30

    Fares gathered via each company’s website, leaving first thing next Saturday morning. Ann Arbor chosen because it is served by all 4, Flint is not.

  • BlueFairlane

    I was wondering about the poor soul who’d be coming here from Flint.

  • Jared Kachelmeyer

    I thought about taking Amtrak to Ann Arbor at Thanksgiving but decided not to when I saw fares were $80. Luckily they don’t jack up the price of gas around holidays.

  • Fred

    Yes, driving would be ~$30, 3:35 (242mi) in the above scenario.

  • Jared Kachelmeyer

    Trains get slowed down by freight congestion. Off hand I’m guessing the limited stop buses are better at sticking to their schedules.

  • Alicia

    Let me know when Amtrak pushes farther north than Flint. Until then, I’ll take train from Flint over bus to Ann Arbor + train from Ann Arbor to Chicago.

  • Velocipedian

    Let’s face it, billionaires don’t make their money on public transit or biking, they make it on oil (an expendable consumable forced-necessity). Don’t expect him to trend away from oil consumption.

  • Big Buck Hunter

    No one enjoys a good delay more than Amtrak. Amtrak also relies on the generous charity of the taxpayer to the tune of millions of $$$ each year.

    While buses travel on highways, their marginal cost to the taxpayer is negligible .

    There’s no denying that america currently lacks the population density necessary to make amtrak remotely feasible.

  • justenvirons

    For routes under 400 miles, Amtrak is $55 million in the black.

  • SP_Disqus

    I like how under an article about a billionaire you’re complaining about middle class people working for the train company making too much money. Good job of seeing the forest for the trees.

  • You’re kidding about highway transportation not being heavily subsidized by taxpayers, right?

  • Big Buck Hunter

    You’re kidding about not knowing what marginal cost is, right?

  • Big Buck Hunter

    Honestly thats not even a relevant comment. Labor costs are holding back metra, and if you deny it then I have some snake oil to sell you


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