With fewer people and cars on the streets because of the coronavirus pandemic, road construction season in northeastern Illinois this year has been like none other in the recent past. Many projects, from local resurfacing work to major arterial reconstruction, have been able to stay on schedule and avoid delays, based on information the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning receives from area transportation agencies.
Since road construction was deemed an essential activity, many of CMAP’s partners, including the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), have said they’ve been able to keep construction on schedule without having to stop, suspend, or accelerate projects.
IDOT, in particular, announced earlier this season it wasn’t paying contractors to accelerate work but noted they could decide to do so to take advantage of lighter traffic volumes. Late last month, the McHenry County Division of Transportation, for example, announced that a project team overseeing Randall Road improvements near the border of Algonquin and Lake in the Hills was fast tracking underground work on Algonquin Road by the intersection with Randall Road because of reduced traffic. Metra also replaced all railroad ties along the Milwaukee District North line, between Chicago and Roundout, ahead of schedule by taking advantage of fewer train runs because of the pandemic.
Projects generally have stayed on track because of funding generated before the pandemic. A recent CMAP analysis found that while the economic effects of the pandemic has limited vehicle travel and the revenue for roadwork that results from such travel, overall revenue numbers likely will be higher in 2020 than 2019 because of revenue increases associated with Illinois’ new capital improvement program.
As part of Rebuild Illinois, the six-year, $45 billion infrastructure program that state lawmakers approved last year, various rate increases, including raising the state motor fuel tax to 38 cents per gallon from 19 cents per gallon, are taking effect in time to help absorb declines in vehicle travel.
With construction activity in high gear as summer heats up, crews throughout the region also have started seeing more cars on the roads. Since late March, traffic on IDOT arterials and expressways have steadily recovered to a level about 25 percent less than pre-COVID-19, according to a CMAP analysis. A similar rebound in traffic has happened on the Illinois Tollway.
Despite COVID-19 creating uncertainty now and into the future, the region’s strong transportation network isn’t showing signs of slowing down. CMAP will continue to monitor the situation and provide analysis as the region seeks to better understand the ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic.