"We need a new vision," says Illinois' top transportation official
Illinois Dept. of Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn spoke at City Club of Chicago last week. Before he was appointed to lead IDOT, Blankenhorn was the executive director of CMAP, the Chicago region’s comprehensive planning agency. At IDOT, he’s begun a culture shift, reorganizing the department and changing priorities to spend limited funds more wisely, and think more about non-auto modes of transportation.
Illinois has traditionally funded major transportation projects with occasional “capital bills.” The state hasn’t passed a capital bill since 2009, and many are speculating we’ll never see another. Instead, the state should create a regular, steady flow of transportation revenue that avoids the “boom and bust” cycles created by capital bills.
Blankenhorn asked the audience at City Club, many of whom were engineers and contractors, to indicate if they were ready for a serious conversation about finding this new revenue source. A lot of hands went up, and there was applause.
“Well, I think that’s actually the problem,” Blankenhorn responded. Simply asking for more money is not going to work. People are too cynical about government, especially in Illinois.
“We need a new vision,” he continued. This vision needs to be built from people’s needs and desires, not dictated by bureaucrats. It needs to include all of the ways people want to get around, not just more roads or wider roads.
This is encouraging, and it should sound familiar if you read last week’s post about Metra. The vision needs to be built on what people want. Then it becomes much easier to spend public dollars on it.
Blankenhorn talked about building a new grassroots coalition, one with messages that inspire the public to demand better transportation. He believes Illinois’ future depends on a fully functioning transportation system, and we believe that’s true for the entire Midwest.
The Midwest High Speed Rail Association looks forward to being part of this new coalition, and putting fast, frequent and reliable trains first in the vision.
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