New transportation investments would boost Illinois' economy
Illinois has the worst roads in America, according to a recent Department of Transportation report. And their decrepit state is saddling residents with big bills.
Our motorists spend an average of $292 every year on car repairs, in large part because three out of every four local roads is in poor or mediocre condition.
Worse still, inadequate federal investment has left Illinois' railways, bridges, and public transportation perilously strained.
Congress has long struggled to provide our state's transportation infrastructure with sufficient funding. It just passed yet another short-term "stopgap" financing measure -- its 35th in the past six years -- which expires on November 20th.
Our state's federal representatives should support a six-year transportation bill. If Congress fails to act, Illinois' roads and public transportation will continue to decay and our economy will suffer. As much as one-third of all freight nationwide passes through our state.
We are, as the Department of Transportation has noted, "at the heart of the country's interstate highway system." Our roads experienced an impressive 105 billion vehicle miles in 2013 alone.
Such heavy travel takes a heavy toll. The federal government chips in, acknowledging that it's not fair for Illinois residents to bear the brunt of the cost of maintenance for so much out-of-state traffic. But the current level of funding has proved inadequate.
It's not only our roads that are in subpar condition. This spring, state transportation officials described "a rapid deterioration in the overall condition of Illinois infrastructure due to the lack of sustainable investment."
Indeed, a lack of such investment has left public transportation in a desperate state of disrepair. The American Society for Civil Engineers gave the state's public transit system a rank of a "D-plus," just one letter grade above the category of "unfit for purpose."
And the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has lamented that "the current state of transit ridership in Chicago is relatively depressing" due to "insufficient accountability" and weak investment.
In fact, Illinois needs upward of $30 billion in new spending to bring its public transportation into satisfactory condition.
Improved public transit infrastructure would be particularly beneficial to residents right here in the Chicago suburbs. An estimated 51,000 locals use public transportation daily. More than half of the residents of Kane, DuPage, Northwest Cook and McHenry rely on trains and buses to commute downtown each workday.
By alleviating delays, investing in public transit would let locals spend less time on the road and more time at work or at home.
Investing in public transportation would also spur economic development. Chicago's Metropolitan Planning Council has long cited under-spending on public transit operations as a major hindrance to economic competitiveness and attracting new workers.
Instead, putting $1 billion toward improving public transportation would create 36,000 jobs. These jobs would generate $3.6 billion in new business transactions and $500 million in new tax revenues.
Unfortunately, longtime political observers consider the passage of transportation legislation to be borderline miraculous. For more than 20 years, transportation funding has been a heated, seemingly intractable partisan battleground. So, long-term transportation funding now faces significant hurdles in Congress -- and that's why the support of our congressional representatives is so critical.
Public transportation and roads are the lifeblood of Illinois' economy. If Congress fails to ensure long-term transportation funding, they will continue to deteriorate and locals across the state will suffer serious economic losses.
Patrick Scully is executive vice president of sales and marketing for Motor Coach Industries. Kim Green is the executive director of business development for Genfare, an Elk Grove Village-based company focusing on innovations in the transportation industry.