Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Get Your Kicks On Route 67

The Illinois Department of Transportation, which has taken a drubbing on occasion in this blog (e.g., here and here), nonetheless seems to be making an effort to keep folks informed about major highway projects via a set of project websites. Link to index of project websites is here.

The latest project to get its own website is the U.S. Route 67 project. The Route 67 project corridor goes 223 miles from Interstate 280 (I-280) at Rock Island to I-270 south of Alton. The communities along the way include Monmouth (pop. 9,900), Macomb (pop. 18,600), Beardstown (pop. 5,800) and Jerseyville (pop. 8,300). According to IDOT's traffic volume maps (here and here), daily traffic volumes on the corridor range from a low of 1900 to a high of 26,000.

Here's the project description from the website:

The existing US 67 Corridor extends nearly 220 miles from Rock Island south to Alton. The two and four lane corridor improvement costs awarded to date total more than $700 million and $142.6 million in projects are programmed during FY 2008-2013. Of this total, $11.4 million is programmed in FY 2008. The estimated unfunded cost to complete the four-lane sections in the US 67 corridor from Macomb southward to the Alton Bypass exceeds $1.5 billion.

More information here.

Given the traffic numbers in most of the areas in the corridor--a fraction of the traffic volumes on the existing rural interstates--one wonder why IDOT is not using a series of passing lanes rather than a full-fledged four lane expressway configuration to serve this corridor.

I guess it is all too easy, however, for folks in northeastern Illinois to be snide and decry the perceived waste of pouring $1.5 billion into a road that serves a collection of small communities and meanders down the state like a riled up snake. Why is IDOT sinking money into concrete in rural Illinois but devoting years and years of wheel-spinning studies to projects in high-volume corridors like the O'Hare Western Bypass and the Elgin O'Hare Expressway?

Presumably, there must be decent economic and social development rationales for putting a four lane highway in stretches of road carrying 100 vehicles per hour in each direction on average. (I'm told the maximum capacity of a highway lanes is about 2,000 vehicles an hour, at least on interstates. I assume this figure is significantly less on two-lane roads, where passing is restricted.)

That is an issue for another day. In the meantime, IDOT's project corridor websites seem a step in the right direction.

10 comments:

Rick Powell said...

1. Thanks for the compliment on IDOT's proactive approach to being informative on projects. It's nice to be noticed, and of course suggestions for improvement are always welcome.

2. It's going to take a long time to do $1.5 billion of work in this corridor and to complete it. Look at the I-39/US 51 corridor, which was identified in the Supplemental Freeway Act of 1969 as a future corridor, as was US 67 and a host of other projects, including the ill-fated Fox Valley Freeway. Planning was started in the Rockford area in the 1970's, and the improvement has gotten a little bit south of Decatur. Still, there's nearly a 100 mile gap to fill to get to I-64 south of Centralia, and planning for most of that segment has just started, and no construction funding is there to finish it. We are talking decades here unless some huge capital investment jump starts it.

3. According to IDOT policy (based on AASHTO guidelines) a rural highway becomes a candidate for 4-laning when 2-way design hourly volumes get up to 800 or so (that's basically the # of vehicles passing a given stretch of roadway in an hour's time during a peak design period). That's about 13 vehicles a minute counting both directions. Urban highways use 1250 D.H.V. for 4-lane criteria because speeds are a little lower and drivers have less headway between vehicles. FYI, daily traffic volume tends to be about 10 times the D.H.V. although it varies according to how heavy the peak hour is. So, in general, around 7500-8000 vehicles per day, counting both directions, is the volume one might consider a 4-lane rural design based on traffic considerations alone.

4. Passing lanes could, indeed, be the ultimate improvement on some as-yet planned stretches of US 67 if a full 4 lane design cannot be justified.

5. The argument has been made that we shouldn't be investing that kind of money in Western IL when there are more pressing needs for a greater # of people in NE IL. Please be aware this portion of IL has been dubbed "Forgotonia" by the locals, and they have historically been underserved by improved highways in comparison to other areas of the state. The recent Dan Ryan reconstruction cost 2/3 of the projected cost of the entire US 67 improvement. I surmise that there will be many projects of similar scope to the Ryan project in the Chicago area before US 67 is finished. There are safety considerations, too. 2 lane rural highways, especially in rolling terrain like much of Western IL, are historically more dangerous than well designed multi-lane highways with separation between the opposing directions of traffic.

6. The highway projects in Western IL, like US 67, US 34 and IL 336, have generated little in the way of opposition and appear to be well supported by the locals and the area's state and U.S. legislators as an economic development generator as well as a traffic solution. Not that project money should follow the path of least resistance, but planning US 67 is a much less complex process than, say, the I-290 or Elgin-OHare projects will be, with the balancing of highly competitive community interests and designing in tight urban spaces.

pc said...

No, let's take a look at why nine-figure sums are being spent (and, chances are, will be spent from funds lost by Chicagoans at their new casino) on a road which carries 10,000 cars a day -- at a time when Chicago bus routes carrying 300,000+ people every day are currently slated for elimination.

I don't care if a two-lane US 67 is "more dangerous." If we actually wanted to save Illinois lives through road redesign, we'd implement comprehensive traffic calming on Western Avenue. Several people I've personally known have been killed along that street.

Rick Powell said...

It is possible to devise a capital improvement plan that derives revenues from all parts of the state, so that there is less imbalance on who pays and who benefits. If casino revenues are in the mix, I have heard talk about increasing the # of gaming positions at East St Louis, Peoria, and Quad Cities as well as the added casinos in the Chicago area. Disclaimer - I am personally reluctant to support dependence on gambling for infrastructure funding.

Justin said...

Rick, you raise some good points. However, how do you respond to PC and Moderator's basic question: how can one rationally justify spending so much transportation money on a road project that will benefit so few transportation users?

The cost-effectiveness seems way out of whack. Could someone put some numbers on this comparison?

Rick Powell said...

Justin,

IL does not currently measure all its highway expansion projects by benefit/cost as a statewide group, with the most worthy projects being done first. There are 9 highway districts, each with a budget and their own programming priorities. District 1 in the 6 NE IL counties typically gets 45% or so of the budget, with each of the remaining 8 districts getting 7% or so, more or less, each year. Thus, Districts 2, 4, 6 and 8 (where US 67 is located) have seen fit to program some work in their Districts for upgrades of US 67, as they balance the other needs of their districts. The US 67 upgrades still have to meet the eligibility requirements under IDOT and Federal design and funding protocols.

I'm sure most expansion projects in NE IL have a higher benefit/cost ratio than US 67, due to the sheer traffic volumes involved. Travel benefits vs. cost can be measured in user delay costs saved vs. construction and maintenance expenditures (it could be expected that bypasses around towns and elimination of traffic signals or stop signs along the route would reduce the travel delay). The economic value of delay elimination is usually in the range of $15-$30 an hour per vehicle depending on the type of travel (commuting, recreation, business, etc.) and passenger vs. commercial vehicle (trucks have a higher $ value).

There may be an economic development component to US 67 that could also be measured, if it is projected to attract jobs to the area.

I do not know where the magic formula of 45% for NE IL came from, but it has been around for decades. It attempts to balance the lower mileage of highways in District 1 with the higher costs for upgrades there, as well as acknowledge that there are much more lane miles of state highways in downstate IL, but a lesser amount of expansion issues as well as lower rural construction costs.

Also, in District 1, there are issues of highway expansion as well as transit expansion, and coordination of the system as a whole. Most of the federal and state dollars for public transit in IL go to the northeast; I don't know what the ratio is, but it is much greater than 45%. This is understandable, because NE IL is an area that is better served in many instances by increased public transit, while downstate, rural counties would not see similar benefits from public transit investment except in specific cases (i.e. Amtrak route expansion or downstate bus systems in university towns).

I realize this is not a complete answer, but simply an explanation of the way things are and why.

Rick Powell said...

I forgot to mention safety benefits vs. cost. Although it is impossible to precisely predict how many accidents are going to happen on a given stretch of road in an "improved vs. non-improved" scenario, crash reduction factors can be applied based on previous system-wide experience of various safety-related improvements, and an economic benefit applied to those improvements.

National Safety Council estimates for economic costs of different types of crashes can be found here:

http://www.nsc.org/lrs/statinfo/estcost.htm

pc said...

Okay, so NE Ill. gets 45% of the funding despite having 67% of the population? That gives each of us NE Illinoisans only 67% of the dollars we deserve on a per-capita basis, and I'm sure (given higher prices) that we contribute a similar proportion of the state's gas tax receipts. Our region's political leaders are not living up to their duty to bring the dollars home.

Rick Powell said...

PC-

The 6 NE IL counties have 2,822 miles of state maintained highways. The other 96 counties have 13,294 miles. Based on that statistic, downstate should get 82% of IDOT's highway budget. Based on population, NE IL should get about 2/3 of IDOT's highway budget. Combining these 2 factors, and recognizing some of the increased costs for urban construction and some system expansion needs which primarily fall in NE IL, it's not surprising that the actual split lies between the two extremes.

Rick Powell said...

PC-

Also, state and federal gas taxes are fixed price per gallon, whether it's $1.29 a gallon or $3.50, so there is no hidden tax on NE IL here that diverts money downstate. IL state tax is is 0.19/gal gas or 0.215/gal diesel, federal is 0.184/gal. There is a 6.25% state sales tax but it goes into the General Fund, not back to highways; and a 0.3% underground storage tank remediation tax.

FWIW, about .03/gal. of the federal tax goes to capital transit projects. I am not sure how IL funds its portion of the RTA. Transit improvements in IL funded by gas tax revenues are largely going to NE IL.

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