Wednesday, November 7, 2007

What's Got Into IDOT?

The Illinois Department of Transportation has announced a series of public hearings on its Illinois State Transportation Plan. You can get a draft of the Plan here.

The Plan has some bad news. Vehicle miles traveled in Illinois continue to grow faster than the rate of population. Yet, IDOT has no money to expand the transportation system, spending 95 percent of its money on maintaining the current system. Existing funding sources like the gas tax are expected to show anemic growth in the years ahead. If that is not bad enough, construction costs in the Chicago area are growing significantly faster than the already robust rate of increase nationally. In short it looks like more of the same Soviet-style management of our limited road capacity lies ahead, namely, long, slow lines of cars on busy highways inching through the roadway chokepoints.

Yet, there are some glimmers of hope in the Plan. Might IDOT be ready to emerge from an extended slumber that has kept it well behind innovative departments of transportations in other states? Several examples:

-- Intelligent Transportation Systems: The Plan tips its hat toward intelligent transportation technologies that increase highway capacity without increasing lane miles and improve safety.

-- Congestion Pricing: Despite indications that the Governor opposes congestion pricing, the Plan treats congestion pricing as a viable transportation system option and calls for "explor[ing] the effectiveness of congestion pricing as a to reduce congestion." Wow.

-- Public/Private Partnerships: The Plan states that a goal is to "support joint public-private partnership and private sector initiatives to provide transportation facilities and services where public expenditures can be reduced and the quality, quantity and long-term stability of service is maintained."

-- User Fees/tolling: More IDOT surprise goals: "Extend user-pay financing to new technologies [and] . . . explore toll opportunities and innovative financing methods, including value capture pricing, to fund transportation facilities and services."

Maybe IDOT is learning from its recent loss of an Urban Partnership Program grant because of its failure to embrace congestion pricing and other such transportation management techniques. Or is this just window dressing to keep civic groups focused on Chicago area public transit--a tiny part of the State's transportation system--while IDOT and the roadbuilders go to town slinging asphalt Downstate?

I prefer to be optimistic and hope that members of the transportation, business and environmental communities press IDOT to make good on the innovations hinted at in this draft Plan.

7 comments:

Rick Powell said...

Moderator,

With all due respect, it might be you who has been in a deep slumber for a few years. IDOT has had an Intelligent Transportation Systems office for the better part of the last decade, and is wiring up the right of way with fiber optic communications systems, coordinated traffic signal systems, and overhead message boards capable of doing Amber Alerts, etc. from remote locations.

Tolling has been the privy of ISTHA for 50 years or so; I really don't see IDOT doing any toll roads, unless it is adding a toll lane to a freeway similar to CA 91 in the Riverside-Anaheim corridor in CA. Congestion pricing will likely be an ISTHA rather than IDOT initiative when/if it occurs.

And in NE IL (at least in my little slice of it), we have been aggressively working with municipalities and private developers to find creative ways of adding capacity to roads, leveraging private capital. In our district, about 1/4 of the total value of roadway improvements to state highways in the last year has been by private developers, doing work on state highways under permit.

Regarding the STP - it's a nice plan, but it's hard to get the general public roused up about a "plan". The last local meeting in my area for the STP drew about 5 people to a local community college. Propose an urban reconstruction project, and you will get a turnout. People in general are focused on their backyard and not the big picture.

Anonymous said...

If there was more emphasis on new roads than maintaining the existing, there would be complaints that IDOT is just furthering sprawl.

Of course, according to Davey, roads are free ("the [recovery] ratio for roads and bridges is zero"), so throw out the gas tax, tolls, and congestion pricing.

Anonymous said...

IDOT has excellent ITS staff who are doing as much as they can. However, who is now the ITS Program Manager statewide? The national expert was released in favor of a person who was director of IDOT's department of external affairs? Was this a "gift?"

Anonymous said...

All of you commentors are dead wrong. When Blagojevich took office he replaced all the engineers with political hacks. This agency is in such disarray that nothing comprehendable ever comes out of it.

Rick Powell said...

To add to my original comment on the difficulty of getting public participation in a regional transportation plan, here's a link to an article in this morning's Aurora paper:

http://www.suburbanchicagonews.com/beaconnews/news/643190,2_1_AU09_METRA_S1.article

If no one shows up for a Metra budget hearing related to the current transit funding dilemma, imagine how difficult it is to attract meaningful input on a statewide planning document. This doesn't mean we shouldn't try, and to continually find better ways of attracting public input, but we need to recognize the challenge.

Anonymous said...

Well, IDOT may have replaced the engineers with political hacks but the engineers have returned as consultants. I think the tollway started having consultants ensconced in offices on-site with two-sided business cards. IDOT has caught on that they still need professionals too --- without increasing headcount. They've followed suit.

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