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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

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
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.
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.

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