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June 21, 2018

Illinois Department of Transportation releases six-year highway and bridge plan

Jun 21, 2018

Illinois Department of Transportation releases six-year highway and bridge plan

The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) recently released its six-year, $11.05 billion plan for highway and bridge investments. The Fiscal Year 2019-24 Proposed Highway Improvement Program, also referred to as the Multi-Year Plan (MYP), consists of fiscally constrained road, bridge, bicycle, and pedestrian projects that the state intends to undertake. As required by state law, the MYP is updated annually. It does not encompass other elements of the surface transportation network, such as transit and intercity rail projects, which are included in other planning documents such as the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program.

This Policy Update examines the MYP’s funding levels and priorities, including its emphasis on asset management practices. Because state and federal funding levels are stagnant, the MYP notes that the condition of some roads will worsen absent new revenue. Relative to prior years, the plan includes a higher percentage of funding for maintenance of the existing system. The plan also emphasizes IDOT’s focus on asset management practices -- a recommendation of the draft ON TO 2050 plan -- that would optimize the timing and amount of infrastructure investment to achieve the best long-term benefit.

Funding levels
The FY19-24 MYP provides $11.05 billion over six years, with $2.2 billion provided in the plan’s first year. This matches last year’s FY18-23 MYP spending for that plan’s first year, FY18. The first year of any given MYP is likely to be the most precise in terms of both revenues and expenditures. The chart below shows planned spending in the first year of each recent MYP. State capital programs and federal stimulus funds increased program spending early in the decade, compared with relatively stagnant spending over the past five years. Note that, because construction costs have risen by 15 percent since FY09, the program's buying power is significantly less than 10 years ago.

IDOT, CMAP, and other partners responsible for managing and maintaining the region’s transportation systems continue to emphasize the need for sustainable revenue sources. The MYP relies primarily on federal funding (82 percent), supplemented by state (12 percent) and local (6 percent) funds. Federal funds have been stagnant over the past decade, except for the one-time infusion of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds in 2009. State capital programs in that same year temporarily increased road and bridge spending, but these funds have largely been spent. Ongoing state revenues for transportation, primarily from the state motor fuel tax (MFT) and motor vehicle registration fees, have also been flat. The MYP projects a flat growth rate for state MFT revenues and a small 0.4 percent annual growth rate for vehicle registration revenue. The MYP acknowledges the program’s constrained funding and the resulting effects on roadways, stating, “Based on current funding levels, it is anticipated that the condition of some roads will continue to worsen over time.”

GO TO 2040 and the draft ON TO 2050 plan (open to public comment through August 14, 2018) highlight the need for sustainable, adequate transportation revenues. In addition to increasing the MFT and indexing it to inflation, the ON TO 2050 draft recommends transitioning to a mileage-based road usage charge to overcome erosion of the tax base as vehicles become more fuel-efficient and as conventional gas-powered vehicles are replaced by alternative-fuel vehicles.

Program priorities
The MYP is divided into sections for the state program (projects selected by IDOT) and the local program. Its $7.69 billion from the state is broken into five core work categories: $2.57 billion for roadway maintenance, $2.50 billion for bridges, $1.04 billion for safety/system modernization, $1.03 billion for expansion, and $535 million for system support including engineering, land acquisition, and other miscellaneous work. The chart below displays the percentage of funds by project category in previous years’ programs. Note that the FY19-24 MYP adds new work types and re-categorizes certain types of projects (as discussed in the MYP narrative); thus, categories below have been condensed to allow historical comparison across years, and comparisons are inexact.

The amount of the program devoted to decreasing congestion and building new capacity has clearly been decreasing over time. The FY19-24 MYP proposes just 13 percent of funds ($1.03 billion) for system expansion. This category includes projects that increase bridge capacity, add lanes, construct new interchanges, build new arterial roadways, or build new bridges on new alignments. Recognizing that transportation funding is limited and the existing system has many needs, the ON TO 2050 draft plan focuses on projects that reconstruct or enhance the existing system and recommends expansion projects only when they meet clear regional objectives.

In the last 10 years, bridge maintenance projects have generally increased as a percentage of spending, reflecting the priority IDOT places on bridges. Furthermore, the federal transportation program now requires states that do not maintain fewer than 10 percent of National Highway System bridges in poor condition -- a target Illinois was not able to meet in 2017 -- to spend a larger portion of their federal funding on bridges.

Approximately $2.9 billion of the state program is allotted specifically for projects in northeastern Illinois, while another $605 million is in the “statewide” category, some of which will be spent in the region. The percentage of the state program spent in northeastern Illinois is roughly the same every year, part of a long-established agreement that District 1 receives 45 percent of the highway program while downstate receives 55 percent.

Asset management and performance metrics
A major theme of the FY19-24 MYP is a new focus on asset management practices, driven in part by federal requirements. Asset management considers the life cycle cost of projects to optimize the timing and amount of infrastructure investment that will achieve the best long-term benefits. IDOT states that it will transition away from a “worst first” philosophy that prioritized assets that have deteriorated past the point of preservation and require costly repairs or total replacement. An asset management strategy uses data-driven decisions to reduce the rate of system deterioration as cost effectively as possible. For example, a low cost improvement such as crack filling or seal coating could be undertaken to keep a roadway in acceptable condition, extending the amount of time before a more extensive and costly roadway rehabilitation is needed.

The MYP includes $421 million for “preservation projects” as part of the asset management approach. This does not include the dollar value of projects in which preservation is done as part of a larger improvement. IDOT notes a long-term target of 20 percent preservation and 80 percent reconstruction/rehabilitation work. Also, for the first time, certain individual projects listed in the MYP are designated as “preservation projects.”

Performance targets in the MYP have also changed. Previous targets were based on the percent of assets defined as being deteriorated. New targets focus on the desired percent of the system in acceptable condition, and different targets are set for different categories of roads and bridges (i.e. “interstate,” “other National Highway System (NHS),” “non-NHS marked routes,” and “non-NHS unmarked routes”). Changes in federal law established performance metrics requiring states to place a greater emphasis on the condition and performance of NHS.

The ON TO 2050 draft plan emphasizes both asset management and the use of performance measures to prioritize investments on projects that do the most good. The MYP’s focus on asset management, building on recommendations in IDOT’s Long Range Transportation Plan, represents an important step forward.

Moving forward
The FY19-24 MYP illustrates two issues facing transportation implementers throughout the region and state: insufficient funding and the resulting need to prioritize investments. The ON TO 2050 draft plan includes various recommendations and strategies to address both issues. The MYP makes important progress in the area of asset management, providing some insight into how and why certain projects were selected. More can be done, however, to increase the transparency in publishing the MYP, such as including downloadable spreadsheets for the program and GIS information for projects. Additionally, the proposed program would be more transparent to the public and other stakeholders if more information on IDOT’s project prioritization -- such as performance criteria and weights for projects -- were included with the program.

CMAP will continue to advocate for sustainable, adequate transportation funding, as well as work with partners to implement asset management and performance-based programming approaches throughout northeastern Illinois.

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