Report says Illinois transportation planning lags in project evaluation metrics

The report explores how other states have implemented performance-based programs for transportation investments

February 24, 2021 / 2 minute read
Report says Illinois transportation planning lags in project evaluation metrics
Image: Illinois Economic Policy Institute

While Illinois passed a historic plan to address its $4.6 billion transportation infrastructure backlog in 2019, it continues to lag other Midwestern states’ implementation of systems to evaluate and prioritize projects, according to a new report by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute (ILEPI). 

The findings come as Legislators are expected to announce a new effort to reform the state’s transportation project selection process this week.

“As Illinois generates billions in new transportation revenues from increased motor fuel taxes and vehicle fees, it has an imperative to demonstrate exactly where that new funding is going,” report author and ILEPI Transportation Analyst Mary Tyler said in a statement. “Performance-based programs (PBP) have become the industry-standard tool that many states are using to provide this level of transparency, and to ensure infrastructure spending addresses quantifiable public needs like reducing congestion and crashes, promoting access to jobs, or improving air quality.”  

The report explores how the states of Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, and Minnesota have implemented performance-based programs for their transportation investments. These are formal processes that select projects by using a pre-determined scoring system, criteria that measure projects against quantifiable policy goals, and mechanisms for independent oversight. Safety, congestion, economic development, and benefit-to-cost ratios are the most common criteria used for scoring and evaluation. Some states also consider metrics like accessibility, environmental impacts, asset management needs, land use coordination, geographic distinctions, and equity for historically marginalized communities.

Illinois does not currently have the kind of formal PBP system that exists in many other states. Instead, the Multi-Year Plan (MYP) is the foundation of the Illinois DOT’s (IDOT) current project selection process. And while steps have been made in recent years to improve the system used to select projects for the MYP, the process for selecting one project over another is not formally defined, not published for general review, and provides little opportunity for public feedback, ILEPI says.

A 2019 legislative proposal that would have required IDOT to create a performance-based project selection process that integrated traffic mitigation, economic development, livability, environmental, and safety metrics was ultimately unsuccessful. However this week, Illinois Rep. Kam Buckner (D-Chicago) and Illinois Sen. Ram Villivalam (D-Chicago) are announcing a new legislative effort they are co-sponsoring to reform the project selection process, and to make state transportation investments “more transparent, accountable, and equitable to all Illinois residents.”

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SOURCE: Illinois Economic Policy Institute

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