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Performance Based Transportation Planning Is on the Way

The Illinois General Assembly just voted to make goals clear to the public and prioritize investments with the biggest impact.

Transportation investments in Illinois carry price tags in the billions, not millions. So it’s important that we make decisions wisely.

When passed in 2019, Rebuild IL allocated $33 billion over six years. The question we have been asking since then is “how will all those public dollars be spent?” Every transportation investment deeply impacts facets of life, including: access to key destinations like jobs, healthcare and food; emissions that impact climate change and public health; affordability of our system; safety; accessibility for people with disabilities; and conditions for populations that have been marginalized historically. And since our state’s vast transportation network is one the key strategic assets we have to compete in the global economy, we must invest with goals that are clearly articulated, measured and refined, and transparent. Are we thinking about all of these dimensions when our state invests billions of dollars into our transportation system?  The good news is that soon, we will be.      

During the 2021 legislative session, legislators passed HB253, which will establish more transparent and equitable investment practices for state transportation infrastructure expenditures. Sponsored in the Senate by Ill. Sen. Ram Villivalam (D-Chicago) and in the House by Ill. Rep. Kam Buckner (D-Chicago), the bill was passed by both chambers of the General Assembly on May 29 and will now go to Gov. Pritzker’s desk for signature. Performance-based planning has been established as a national best practice by the Federal government, and a number of other states have established such processes.

“Illinois taxpayers deserve a system for selecting transportation and infrastructure projects that is transparent, data driven, and equitable. I applaud my Senate colleagues for voting in favor of shining more sunlight on this process to ensure the public can better understand why projects are selected, and to select projects that do the greatest good for Illinoisans,” said Sen. Villivalam.

This legislation will require the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) that oversees transit in northeastern Illinois to use performance metrics in evaluating projects. Known as performance-based planning, this process uses data to compare proposed infrastructure projects and prioritize those that achieve the greatest transportation outcomes.

“Whether we want to improve a community’s main street or enhance a train station, this proposal will ensure we use data-driven criteria to achieve both excellence and equity with every dollar spent,” said Ill. Rep. Buckner.

After April 2022, capacity projects in the IDOT and RTA multiyear plans will be required to go through a transparent performance-based planning process.  Stakeholders’ work is not finished, however; they will need to provide input as IDOT and RTA develop the criteria for evaluating projects.  But fortunately, some initial steps on which to build have been made by IDOT.  As soon as next year we can look forward to multiyear investment plans that more transparently prioritize projects and describe the benefits that they will deliver to Illinois taxpayers.

This blog is authored jointly by the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, Illinois Environmental Council, Transportation Equity Network, Illinois Economic Policy Institute, and Metropolitan Planning Council