Proposed sales tax hike would fund transportation projects, more

  • Would you pay a quarter of a cent more for new bridges? The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning hopes you will, saying their proposed sales tax hike could generate $300 million a year for infrastructure improvements and open space projects.

      Would you pay a quarter of a cent more for new bridges? The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning hopes you will, saying their proposed sales tax hike could generate $300 million a year for infrastructure improvements and open space projects. Rick West | Staff Photographer, December 2010

  • High school student Jessica Karlic's drawing will grace Illinois tollway maps in 2015. The contest-winning art depicts the dangers of tired driving.

    High school student Jessica Karlic's drawing will grace Illinois tollway maps in 2015. The contest-winning art depicts the dangers of tired driving. Courtesy of the Illinois Tollway

 
 
Updated 11/24/2014 5:15 AM

Would you pay 25 cents more on a $100 purchase to put a bridge over the Fox River? Or repair a CTA line? Or build a road near O'Hare to relieve congestion?

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning hopes you will and is set on persuading lawmakers to raise the regional sales tax by a quarter-cent to generate $300 million a year for transportation, water and open-space projects in northeastern Illinois.

 

After unveiling the concept this month, CMAP Executive Director Randy Blankenhorn acknowledged Chicago and the suburbs need billions to replace, repair and improve our dilapidated infrastructure but thinks "$300 million is enough to make a difference at the regional scale."

"In the old days, when we had infrastructure problems, we went to Washington and they gave us money," Blankenhorn said. Now, state aid is almost nonexistent and the federal government is hamstrung without a long-term transportation funding program, planners say.

Cases in point: Metra is raising fares to pay for new train cars and locomotives, money to build a Route 53 extension is in short supply, and the O'Hare modernization program is incomplete for lack of a financial buy-in from airlines.

Traffic jams, potholes and service problems on Metra and the CTA aren't isolated problems -- they're symptomatic of a greater infrastructure malaise that's undermining the region's prosperity, CMAP argues.

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"We either help ourselves or we're not getting to where we need to be," Blankenhorn said.

Since the summer, the agency's sought reaction about the tax plan from 25 groups and individuals and asked: "Does this make sense? Is it worth pursuing? Are we crazy?" Blankenhorn said.

"The answer across the board was 'this is worth doing.'" But, "it's going to be a heavy lift."

The zoo-size lift includes both donkeys and elephants -- tax-phobic Democratic and Republican legislators and Republican Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner, whom CMAP will lobby to embrace their idea in 2015.

Should CMAP succeed against the odds, the new cash would be split using a competitive process among transportation, water and open space projects.

The winners must meet multiple criteria, such as a highway expansion that makes room for bus rapid transit and propagates endangered turtles. (OK, I'm kidding about the turtle part.)

But with such a big pot of money, how does CMAP evade the political interference that dogged it with the Illiana Expressway? This fall, outgoing Gov. Pat Quinn pressured CMAP hard to endorse the road that many consider a boondoggle in-waiting.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The solution will lie in crafting legislation that preserves the agency's autonomy to administer the fund, Blankenhorn said.

Stay tuned. To learn more about the plan (dubbed Fund 2040), go to www.cmap.illinois.gov/.

Move over, Illinois

It's been almost two years since State Trooper Kyle Deatherage was killed on I-55 by a truck during a traffic stop on Nov. 26, 2012. His death caused such a sense of outrage in suburbanite Kate Olchawa, the wife of a trooper who patrols the Tri-State, she created a "Move Over Illinois" page on Facebook.

The site raises funds for a memorial and educates people about Illinois' Scott's Law (also called the "Move Over" law). It requires drivers to yield to a stopped emergency vehicle with flashing lights by reducing speed, changing lanes to give the stopped vehicle room and being careful. If it's impossible to change lanes, drivers should slow down as they pass. The law was named for a Chicago Fire Department lieutenant killed while helping at a crash.

Despite enactment in 2002, fatalities continue, Olchawa pointed out. On March 28, 2013, Trooper James Sauter died when a truck rear-ended his squad car on I-294. And, on Jan. 27, 2014, tollway worker Vincent Petrella of Wheeling was killed and Trooper Douglas Balder was seriously injured when a driver struck their vehicles stopped on I-88.

Olchawa's next step is obtaining nonprofit status. To find out more, go to www.facebook.com/MoveOverIllinois?ref=aymt_homepage_panel.

You should know

Here's a shout-out to some high school students whose drawings depicting the dangers of drowsy driving rose to the top of an Illinois tollway art contest with 66 competitors. Winning first place means New Lenox teen Jessica Karlic's artwork will cover the 2015 tollway map, distributed to more than 125,000 people. Runners-up include Cassandra Flick of Hoffman Estates and Claire Kozik of Downers Grove, whose work will be displayed at tollway oases.

When/where not to drive

The crack staff at Google analyzed travel trends for Thanksgiving and issued the following warnings for Chicago-area folks. The avoid-at-all-costs drive is between 3 and 5 p.m. Wednesday. Coming second in the You-Will-Be-Stuck-In-Traffic category is Saturday and Tuesday of this week. What about Black Friday? Supposedly, data crunched from Google Maps shows it's no big deal. But wherever you go, drive carefully. The National Safety Council predicts there will be 418 traffic fatalities during the holiday weekend.

One more thing

Metra riders on the Union Pacific North and West Lines should watch for upcoming schedule changes. On the North Line, the addition of a Ravenswood stop means tweaks for six weekday and four weekend trains. On the West Line, three weekday trains will be adjusted to reflect actual conditions. To find out if this affects you, go to metrarail.com/metra/en/home.html.

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