Sunday, July 8, 2007

Urban Partnership Program: Learning From The Loss

The U.S. Department of Transportation rejected Los Angeles' application for the federal Urban Partnership program, just as it rejected this region's application. The Urban Partnership program is designed to provide substantial new funding for regions willing to use pricing policies as one part of a package of congestion relief measures to be implemented in the next several years.

The response of the two regions is interesting. In Los Angeles there was media coverage of the loss by that area's version of our John Hilkevitch/Greg Hinz. (Here and here.) The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority took notice of this loss and has embarked on an effort to implement road tolling within the next three years. (Articles here, here and here.). Some of the tolling options in Los Angeles include:

• Building truck-only toll lanes along an 18-mile stretch of the 710 Freeway, providing a route for commerce from the port into central Los Angeles.

• Adding toll lanes to a section of the 10 Freeway east of Los Angeles that parallels the El Monte Busway.

• Adding toll lanes to the 110 Freeway south of downtown Los Angeles, which already has a carpool and bus lane down the middle.

• Adding toll lanes along the 105 Freeway, which already has both a carpool lane and the Metro Green Line train going down the middle of it.

In contrast, this region's big loss in the Urban Partnership program derby got no press attention. Alderman Burke's downtown cordon pricing trial ballon got shot down before it lifted off. Since DOT's announcement, the RTA and IDOT have been silent on the issues of the Urban Partnership program loss and road pricing even though they were the ones primarily responsible for the failed Urban Partnership program application. I guess the loss of $200-$300 million in new federal transportation money wasn't enough inducement for them to commit to taking a serious look at implementing congestion pricing in this region.

Note, however, that the Illinois Tollway is embarking on an 18-month congestion pricing study. The study will extend to currently non-tolled roads (e.g., Dan Ryan and Kennedy express lanes. Could this be a vehicle for a more robust embrace of congestion pricing by the Tollway and other transportation agencies? Or will IDOT, the City of Chicago and the RTA continue to rely on wishful thinking that traffic congestion will (a) go away somehow or (b) be alleviated if only we pump billions in new State money into the public transit system over the next five years or (c) be taken care of by steadily rising gas prices?


Anonymous said...

Dear moderator you must know that vision -- in these parts-- is a substantial liability--and that the sympathizers--do very little if anything-- other than agitate. When the going gets tough--the sympathizers and provocateurs are quick to retreat. There are many martyrs in this region because of this. Bully for LA.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand how building new highway lanes, as in your LA example, is good for transit.

Moderator said...

Anonymous #1:

I believe that IDOT is the key to understanding the problem you describe and it is the key to the solution.

IDOT should be the force in this State for effective and creative transportation solutions. Instead, it is a rigid and uncreative agency that has opposed or ignored just about every progressive initiative that might be available to it.

For example, IDOT has been tepid at best with respect to the use of design-build construction methods even though such methods can save time and money.

IDOT has failed to take advantage of federal programs that might bring dollars and new ideas to the region. In addition to its recent loss of an Urban Partnership grant, IDOT has failed to take advantage of programs like TIFIA and State Infrastructure Banks. It resists road pricing mechanisms, perhaps fearing a loss of control to the Illinois Tollway.

IDOT is one agency with the resources and inherent authority to steamroll--if necessary--over local resistance to tools such as HOV lanes, but it has consistently "caved" to such local resistance.

This region's MPO, and presumably those downstate, have been creatures of IDOT. IDOT has sat by while this region's MPO accumulated capital investment wish lists that lacked any priority ranking based on a rigorous cost-benefit analysis.

IDOT is also the key to solving some of this region's transportation problems. It will take a dynamic Secretary of Transportation and a Governor willing to stand behind that Secretary to make the kind of improvements in the agency required for it to become a national leader rather than a laggard.

Moderator said...


Here's how.

Build a new highway lane. Reserve use of that lane to those who pay and for buses. Toll those who use the lane and vary the tolls to ensure a steady traffic flow. Use a sizeable chunk of the toll revenue to purchase and operate nice buses that can now run in the corridor according to a dependable schedule. If ridership levels justify switch to light rail in or around the corridor.

Yes, you get more cars in the corridor, but you get more transit riders than you would if you just let the buses sit in gunked up traffic congestion. Hope that over time and increasing gas prices that the market/consumer preferences shift transit's way.

pc said...

Funny that ISTHA ends up being the good guy here. The LA Times article (“It’s so difficult to get consensus... to do anything different in Los Angeles”) finally galvanized me into writing a letter to Chicago leaders, the FAA, and ISTHA urging tolling of I-190, instead of raising already high ticket taxes (even on connecting passengers) to widen the not-really-congested road.

This region's boneheaded leadership have no more excuses.

Moderator said...


Please post the contents of your letter.