Illinois Chamber Helps Secure Transportation Funds through Breakthrough ‘Lockbox’ Initiative
With a population of more than 12.8 million people and an immense web of railways, vehicle traffic, waterways and air travel in Illinois, transportation infrastructure and funding have become an important focus for the Illinois Chamber of Commerce – but, perhaps, none more important than the bold undertaking it helped spearhead to get an amendment on the ballot in the November elections.
As a result, 79 percent of Illinois voters approved a state Constitutional change, known as the Safe Roads Amendment or “Lockbox Amendment,” which prevents Illinois’s transportation revenue from being used as a slush-fund that can be raided.
Passage ensures that revenue collected for transportation (e.g., public transit, rail, roads, bridges, waterways, and pedestrian projects) must be reinvested in assets to allow for a “predictable funding stream and accountability,” according to Benjamin Brockschmidt, Vice President of Policy and Executive Director of the Infrastructure Council at the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.
To get the amendment introduced and passed in the state Senate and House and to build support for it required several years of work and top-line components – getting buy-in from a diverse business community, educating elected officials, and building public and grassroots understanding – notes Brockschmidt. This ranged from letters to editors, to meetings with multiple organizations.
Another group that was also key to getting the amendment passed was the Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association, which conducted polling, interacted with policy-leaders, and used social media, radio and television in its communication efforts.
A Look Back
Illinois sits at a critical nexus for the United States transportation network; however, from 2002 to 2016, $6.8 billion in state transportation revenue was siphoned or diverted in Illinois.
Businesses and transportation stakeholders understood that these ongoing practices would lead to a deteriorating and underfunded system. Brockschmidt explains that in the Chicago region alone, congestion on the highways adds an average of 61 hours behind the wheel of a car annually – which is a 97 percent increase from 1982 – and the cost of that congestion is over $7 billion a year in lost productivity. Additionally, in the Chicago region, transit investments are falling short of the $2-$3 billion that are needed annually, while transit in mid-sized municipalities outside of the Chicago region require more than a half a billion dollars to stay functional.
“Illinois sits at the center of the North American freight and transportation network. We’re third in terms of number of bridges and miles of roads. We have the third-largest transit system in the Chicago area. We have major airports all across the state. We’re eighth in waterways and second in rail and being at the center of the nation’s transportation network [and] if we don’t have our act together, it impacts things from the West Coast to the East Coast and everything in between,” says Brockschmidt.
“The main reason for that is with the access to all this freight, we have all six of the Class I railroads. We have companies that know they can compete on the lowest cost of freight movement and at the same time, you have Illinois in a very central location so we attract a lot of people as well. And the ability of people – and not just goods – to move efficiently and safely from point A to B is essential to the state’s economy and the nation’s economy as a whole,” he adds.
A Fix Ahead
The business community’s push in Illinois underscores a reality about America’s transportation network. Users are impacted when sustainable funding is not assured, and good polices are not approved, because this affects completing necessary projects.
When one link weakens (whether through failures regarding maintenance, or lack of improvements or modernization), problems arise in a system that moves millions of people every day and is an economic engine for America. For instance, every $1.3 billion spent for infrastructure investment provides a return of $2 billion in growth,” according to Standard & Poor’s.
The Illinois story is a case study that points to how America can eventually succeed or fail on the framework of a massive transportation network that currently requires additional funding and fixes. The highway system was established in the 1950s, but is also now part of a multimodal grid that spans from ports on the West Coast to smart-growth epicenters on the East Coast.
Efforts such as the “Lockbox” vote show how private, federal, state and local sources of funding are all crucial to ensure a well-maintained, efficient, expanding and safe transportation network.
DID YOU ALSO KNOW?
* Research shows that transportation is one of the largest expenses that individuals and families have to pay.
* There are numerous studies directly linking access to transportation with upward economic mobility.