With 139,000 miles of roadways – the 4th most in the U.S. – Illinois is a major player in the nation’s interstate travel and transportation. However, Illinois’ critical transportation infrastructure and funding are falling behind, creating bottlenecks and commuter problems.

Roads & Bridges

As a result of the lack of upkeep caused by budget shortfalls, 42% of Illinois’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition, and 16% of bridges in Illinois are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Despite this need for capital improvement on current roads, there are several current road expansion proposals that will have a negative impact on surrounding environmental features such as the Illiana Tollroad, Rt 53 expansion, and Rt. 66 expansion. Environmental protections are critical in planning new road projects.
Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), and all-electric vehicles (EVs) — also called electric drive vehicles collectively — are an increasingly common sight on Illinois roadways. EVs use electricity either as their primary fuel or to improve the efficiency of conventional vehicle designs. According to Edmunds and as of 2014, Illinois ranked 10th in the nation for percentage of EV (0.3%) registrations. Through its partnership with the City of Chicago and the Chicago Area Clean Cities Coalition, Illinois has installed one of the most comprehensive public charging station networks in the United States. EVs and PHEVs running only on electricity have zero tailpipe emissions, but emissions may be produced by the source of electrical power, such as a power plant, so as Illinois transitions to renewable energy, EVs become even more effective in reducing Illinois’ carbon emissions.
Illinois is especially well suited to one mode that contributes zero carbon emissions: bicycling. Chicago currently has more than 200 miles of on-street protected, buffered and shared bike lanes, many miles of off-street paths (including the 18.5-mile Lakefront Trail), more than 13,000 bike racks, and sheltered, high-capacity, bike parking areas at many CTA rail stations. In other areas of the state, flat prairie land offers ideal conditions for road bikes.

Freight & Passenger Rail

Illinois has 669.1 million annual, unlinked passenger trips via transit systems—bus, heavy rail, light rail, and commuter rail. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and Metra combine to serve nearly 2 million transit riders each weekday and Chicago is Amtrak’s primary intercity rail hub outside the Northeast. Lamentably, Illinois ranks among the top 5 states in terms of the longest commuting times in the country. In fact, only 53% of jobs in the region are accessible by transit in 90 minutes or less by a typical resident—and that number drops to 12% in the suburbs. As a result, only 11% of Chicagoland residents are able to ride transit to work and just 7% of all trips in the Chicago region are transit trips.
Freight costs associated with congestion delays amount to $9.2 billion. Congested interchanges have a major impact on the flow of freight and 2 of the nation’s top 5 most highly congested interchanges are located in Chicago. Rail moves approximately $350 billion in goods through the state each year. Illinois has 41 freight railroads covering 7,028 miles across the state—2nd in the nation by mileage. Chicago is the busiest rail hub in the U.S. with nearly 1,300 trains (freight and passenger) passing through the region each day but its century-old rail lines are not configured for the volumes and types of freight being carried currently. For example, the lack of grade separation and the competition of passenger and freight service on those lines serves to make Chicago the largest freight rail choke-point in the country.
Current Laws and Transportation Programs
Chicago Metropolitan Agency of Planning (CMAP):
Designated by the federal government as the Chicago region’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, CMAP is responsible for reviewing and approving projects that use federal transportation dollars. Part of this role entails overseeing the implementation of the GO TO 2040 comprehensive regional plan, which was created to address anticipated population growth of more than 2 million new residents.
National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA):
NEPA requires that agencies take a hard look at how proposed transportation projects involving major federal action significantly affect the human environment. Agencies are to draw upon public participation to highlight and seriously consider comprehensive environmental, cultural and agricultural impacts in deciding whether and how to build projects like new highways and rail lines. While agencies are not required to select the most environmentally conscious alternative, NEPA injects policy considerations into the transportation planning process, which can result in preserving and protecting rare and important natural resources.
Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) Act:
The Regional Transportation Agency is charged with transit planning for the six-county Northeastern Illinois region. The agency’s responsibilities include implementing projects, administering grant programs, growing ridership, and improving mobility. RTA also provides technical and analytical expertise in support of local public transit initiatives to municipalities and transportation agencies across the region. Many of these efforts are geared towards creating and preserving livable communities throughout Northeastern Illinois.

The region’s system covers approximately 3,700 square miles and serves approximately 8.4 million residents. The RTA’s regional system is the second largest transit system in the country by passenger miles traveled, behind only New York, and the third largest in the country by ridership, behind only New York and Los Angeles.

Illinois Jobs Now:
A 2009 capital construction program that, along with American Recovery & Reinvestment Act funds, aims to repair state highways. In 2012, there were an estimated 7,348 miles of state highways in disrepair.
Brownfields Redevelopment and Intermodal Promotion Act:
Passed in 2013, this act creates the South Suburban Cook County Brownfield Redevelopment Zone with the goal to redevelop brownfields (former industrial or commercial sites where future use is affected by environmental contamination) in the zone by leveraging the existing infrastructure around the CN Intermodal Terminal and the Union Pacific Intermodal Terminal.

Eligible projects are limited to those classified by the Urban Land Institute as: warehouse distribution, manufacturing, or freight forwarding. Eligible developers may be reimbursed for a variety of activities, including: environmental studies and remediation; land acquisition and demolition; recruiting and training minority residents from the zone; and upgrading the public infrastructure.

The Act has created economic opportunity and reinvestment in communities, jobs, and new industry in the suburbs.

Must Stop for Pedestrians Act:
Passed in 2010, this law requires motorists and cyclists to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks.
Protecting Cyclists and Pedestrians from Harassment:
As of 2010, this law makes it a crime to ride unnecessarily close to, toward or near a cyclist, pedestrian or equestrian. If the violation results in great bodily harm, the driver could be charged with a felony.
The 2008 Bicycle Safety Ordinance:
Prohibits motorists from opening a door into moving traffic; sets a 3 foot minimum passing distance; and prohibits motorists from turning right in front of a bicyclist.
Illinois Complete Streets:
Signed into law in 2007, this important legislation protects pedestrians, bicyclists and other vulnerable road users. Requires that bicycle and pedestrian ways be established in or near urban areas in all state transportation projects.
Our Vision
Illinois should ensure the CMAP GOTO2040 program continues to be supported with state level policies.
State policy should support and expand on CMAP’s goals by increasing transit mode-share from the 2008 level of 7% to a 14% transit mode-share by 2040. Current forecasts indicate that the revenues from existing sources expected to be available between 2015 and 2040 will only minimally exceed the amount necessary to operate, maintain, and administer the transportation system. To counter this, the state should develop and use performance criteria based on goals for a 21st century transportation system and a rigorous cost-benefit analysis to select projects with the potential to drive economic development and deliver multiple benefits for cities and communities. State policies should also support the GOTO2040 recommendations with regards to the implementation of new and enhanced sources of reasonably expected transportation revenues: state motor fuel tax increase and replacement, congestion pricing on new capacity and portions of the existing system, performance-based funding, and variable parking pricing.
Investments should be increased for the RTA through budget appropriations and capital investment.
Compared to other major cities in the U.S. and abroad, Chicago’s current transit system is drastically underfunded—already facing a $31 billion deficit just to fix and replace worn-out equipment—and in need of significant infrastructure improvements and expansion to function on a truly world-class level. The statutory formula for allocating funds to the RTA has not been updated since 1983, and is an obstacle to better decision-making about limited surface transportation resources. Additionally, Chicago transportation funds are distributed among the region’s three transit agencies based on a funding formula established 30 years ago. Instead, location-efficient criteria should be used for transportation planning and resource distribution.
Adequate money should be appropriated for transportation needs at the state level.
Currently, however, the percentage of funding allocated to transit in Illinois is too low. The gas tax has not been raised since 1990, resulting in a loss of purchasing power over the years. Additionally, decision-makers regularly siphon off motor-fuel monies for other governmental obligations, thus reducing funds to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. State policies should eliminate this diversion and increase the gas tax by 10 cents/gallon—this would raise $500 million for transit and other transportation improvements, while still costing the average driver 36% less to fill up than a year ago.

Unfortunately, Governor Rauner has proposed slashing nearly 1/3 of state funds provided to the RTA and distributed to the CTA, Metra, and Pace—agencies that are already cash-starved. The budget cuts include cuts to paratransit service in Cook and the collar counties, and reduced fares for senior citizens and students. Furthermore, the proposal calls for cuts to downstate public transit, too—this would impact seniors and others who depend on transit to get to doctor’s appointments, the grocery store, etc.

At the same time, however, Governor Rauner’s budget proposal would add $120 million to the state’s road construction fund. Unfortunately, these kinds of roads-only capital expenditures are bad for the environment and Illinois citizens. Approximately 85% percent of greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector are related to the surface transportation system. What’s more, people who live in walkable communities are healthier and happier than those who have to drive everywhere.

The state should provide better funding sources for transportation and the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) should guide the allocation of significant funds through its own capital program and metropolitan planning organizations.
For example, capital funds support transit projects like the Red Line rebuild. The state should also establish coordinated, long-term planning that accounts for interacting infrastructure systems and commits funding for infrastructure improvements in each annual budget.
Efficiency of the region’s rail infrastructure should be increased.
Governor Rauner has proposed cutting state payments to Amtrak from $42 million to $26 million. However, high-speed rail and expanded passenger rail and Amtrak service should be a state priority. Consideration should be given to projects that enhance public safety, promote economic development, improve regional air quality, reduce noise from idling or slow-moving trains, and improve service while maintaining adequate freight capacity.
Policies should create safe travel environments for citizens and encourage walking and biking.
Public health in Illinois is declining but providing more opportunities for walking and recreation has been shown to improve public health. Therefore, state transportation planning should consider public health-centered initiatives such as increasing the number of biking and walking projects. Policies must ensure that enforcement continues with regards to the Must Stop for Pedestrians Act and also must clarify that bikes are allowed to pass on the right. In addition, Complete Streets should be fully implemented by IDOT. Other transportation policies should ensure safer routes to schools and should require schools to do a minimum amount of biking and safety information in physical education classes.
Illinois should encourage the use of Transit Oriented Development (TOD).
Regional planning, city revitalization, and walkable neighborhoods can all incorporate TOD. This kind of development creates desirable places to live, work, and play by crafting compact, walkable, mixed-use communities centered around high-quality transit systems. Some of the benefits of TOD include: increased transit ridership and decreased driving and congestion; healthier lifestyle with more walking, and less stress; greatly reduced pollution and environmental destruction; and reduced household spending on transportation, resulting in more affordable housing.
The Illinois Bike Transportation Plan should be fully staffed and implemented.
The first in Illinois history, this state-wide plan provides IDOT with policies, best practices, and strategies for implementing a sustainable, multi-modal transportation system in Illinois–including refinements to IDOT’s Complete Streets implementation, which started in 2010–and aims to improve Illinois’ #14 national “BicycleFriendly State” rating. However, a hiring freeze has resulted in the Department being understaffed, which has in turn prevented the Plan from being fully implemented.
The Transportation Enhancements/Transportation Alternatives Program should be improved through more program efficiency and transparency, better obligation rates, and more emphasis on projects improving bicycling.
The Program is the main source for trails and bikeways in the state. However, at times in the past, it has been plagued by political influence, poor transparency, unpredictable grant cycles and announcements, spreading money too thinly, high unobligated fund balances and rescissions, and a lower-than-average fraction of Program monies spent on bike/ped projects.
IDOT should fund sidewalks and bikeways at the same cost-sharing rate as other road projects.
Towns and other local agencies must pay a separate cost share (20%) for new sidewalk and bikeway construction in IDOT road projects–which more highly-rated “Bicycle-Friendly States” do not. This can leadto project delays, re-designs, and roads without bike/ped accommodations.
The Parks and Conservation Fund should be used for its intended purposes.
Funded via a vehicle title transfer fee since 1990, the Bikeways portion of this dedicated fund has been used by IDNR to expand and maintain the state trail network, and for local agency 50/50 grants for bike path development. However, since 2008, the vast majority of this fund has been swept or used for salaries normally paid by IDNR’s general budget. As a result, the state trail system is in disrepair and popular local trails are not getting built.
Take Action and Learn More
Take Action:
Learn more about the Illiana boondogle and take action to stop it!
Building a Better Illinois: Report of the Transition Co-chairs to Governor-elect Rauner: January 2015
American Society of Engineers: Report Card for Illinois Infrastructure
Full ASCE 2017 Report
Transit Access Across America 2014: Center for Transportation Studies, University of Minnesota.
How Your City’s Public Transit Stacks Up
Learn more about the Grand Crossing Rail Project and its relationship to the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) Program

Partners for Parks and Wildlife

Partners for Parks and Wildlife (PPW) is a grassroots coalition that is dedicated to secure and increase funding for open space and park acquisition, natural area preservation, wildlife habitat protection and recreational opportunities in Illinois.

Learn More About Climate Change

The U.S. EPA’s website on climate change was once a great resource for basic scientific information on the topic and we look forward to the day that it is again. Until then, the City of Chicago is making sure its citizens have access to research and information.


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