Invest Strategically in Transportation
The transportation network is one of our region's most important assets, key to our economic prosperity.
While our advanced system of highways, trains, and buses retains an excellent national and global reputation, it is aging quickly and falling behind other industrialized parts of the world, many of which have invested significantly to create, operate, and maintain world-class systems.
Achieving a modern, well-functioning system of roads and public transit simply makes good economic sense. Businesses want efficient and effective transportation infrastructure, including rapid access to airports and efficient movement of goods. Attracting and retaining a skilled workforce requires a system where ease of mobility is ensured and where car ownership is not a requirement for living, working, and recreation.
Traffic congestion has real costs, including lost time and fuel, decreased productivity, inefficient movements of freight, and pollution. Underinvestment in transportation is also harmful, as seen with distressing cuts to public transit and a backlog of deferred maintenance on our roads and bridges.
To improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our transportation system, the first requirement is to spend existing resources more wisely. Investment decisions should be based on performance-driven criteria, rather than arbitrary formulas. The region should prioritize efforts to modernize our significant existing assets we have, rather than continuing to expand the system.
Investments of all types should take a multimodal approach, with consideration for transit users, bicyclists, and pedestrians. The federal government and State of Illinois should keep pace with global competition by increasing transportation investment in metropolitan regions like ours, which drive the U.S. and state economy.
Find New, Innovative Revenues
The second requirement is to generate new revenues through more-efficient user fees, which should be better structured to reflect actual maintenance and operations needs as well as the costs of congestion. The federal and state gas taxes, which fund a large share of our roads, have not kept up with the costs of construction. These should be bolstered in the short term, and a replacement revenue stream should be explored as automobiles become more fuel-efficient.
Also, applying free-market, supply-and-demand principles like congestion pricing and parking management strategies will reduce congestion by providing incentives for some drivers to alter their travel behavior. These strategies will enhance mobility for all users and will also help fund badly needed improvements to our transit systems and local roads. Other innovative financing sources, such as public- private partnerships (PPPs), also show promise in reducing costs and shortening the duration of project development and construction.
Create Cost and Investment Efficiencies
Given limited resources, the region should evaluate road and transit investments based on the degree to which they impact the economy and livability. Maintaining and modernizing the existing system should take precedence over more costly expansions. The federal government and state should prioritize funding toward metropolitan areas, which drive our economy, rather than spreading funds around too thinly.
Increase Gas Taxes
Current federal and state gas taxes have proved inadequate to fund maintenance and operation of the system. Neither per-gallon tax has been raised in 20 years. The State of Illinois should increase the existing 19 cents per gallon gas tax by 8 cents in the short term, and this tax should be indexed annually to keep pace with inflation and the rising costs of construction. A portion of the revenues should be devoted to transit. Over the longer term, gas taxes will eventually need to be replaced by more efficient user fees, as vehicles switch to alternative energy sources.
Implement Congestion Pricing
Congestion pricing applies free market principles of supply and demand to reduce congestion, resulting in more efficient personal travel and freight movement. Tolls on expressways should be charged based on the level of congestion, meaning that travel at peak periods is more expensive. To provide travel options, supportive transit projects and arterial improvements should be funded by the revenues generated from congestion pricing.
Implement Parking Strategies Including Pricing
Local governments can utilize a range of strategies, including pricing, improved information on parking availability, and reforming ordinances to reduce parking requirements for new developments. In particular, variable pricing can allow parking to reflect its true market value, with higher prices charged at times and locations of peak demand.
Discover Innovative Finance Mechanisms
Other efficient mechanisms for transportation funding should be explored. Public-private partnerships (PPPs) offer a range of approaches to privatize infrastructure assets and realize cost savings from shorter construction schedules. A range of pros and cons exists for each strategy, but they should be explored. However, the State of Illinois currently lacks legislation to enable PPPs. "Value capture" mechanisms and impact fees also have promise in generating revenue from increases in property values caused by nearby infrastructure investments.