We’re in this mess because we’ve invested less and less

Source: State of Illinois, U.S. Census, National Association of State Budget Officers; fiscal years

Source: Ill. Dept. of Transportation, Metropolitan Planning Council

The Illinois motor fuel tax is a major source of our state's road and transit construction funding. Since it was last raised in 1991, the purchasing power of this fixed 19 cent-per-gallon gas tax has declined by more than 40 percent—reducing the average Illinoisan’s annual contribution from the equivalent of $160 to under $100 today. In turn, transportation investment has fallen by 40 percent, and the percentage of our roads in good condition has fallen from the benchmark of 90 percent to only 79 percent in 2015. Without action, only 62 percent of state roads will be in good condition by 2021.

The solution

“Potholes! You cannot avoid them.”

—Andrea B., Peoria

I live in Peoria, and one of the major streets here is University. I’m not exaggerating: there have been major potholes on this street since I moved here three years ago. I work at the biggest medical center in town, and have to drive to work: the buses go only once an hour during the day.

On a three-mile stretch of University, there have been no serious repairs during that time. Yes, sometimes the city will put down some kind of black gunk to fix the streets, but it shortly comes off the street and turns into rubble. I drive to work every day, and at one point I get off this street and get on the interstate for three or four minutes to avoid the rocky road.

Two winters ago, the front passenger side of my car collapsed over the top of the wheel. It cost $800 to repair. It was absolutely because of the potholes. I talked to people at work—they all said the state doesn’t have any money to fix the roads. It’s something people talk about. In the local newspaper, people talk about issues and potholes are #1 on the list. I have not seen anything like this before—and I’ve lived in a lot of places, including Germany, Texas, Louisiana and North Carolina. I’ve never lived anywhere where the streets were this bad and nothing was done about it. When I moved here, people quickly let me know that the state didn’t have money to fix the roads.

I would stress to public officials that this situation is not going to get any better: we must face this problem. The potholes are unsightly, damaging to people’s cars and are definitely visible if you are trying to attract businesses. Why not set money aside to handle it? I would be willing to pay more—if the money was dedicated to road repair.

Illinois drivers spend an extra $3.7 billion a year on repair bills for damage from poor road conditions.

How can we get excited about maintaining our transportation infrastructure?

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“If the train were more frequent and reliable, it would be a much more attractive alternative to driving.”

—Charles H., Elmhurst

I live in Elmhurst and work in downtown Chicago. I have often taken the Metra train to work, but there have been some issues with delays—sometimes the trains are five to 10 minutes late. This happens at least once a week. I think that Metra shares certain lines with freight, and that can cause delays. I have also heard from other passengers that there have been delays because something on the train is not working.

I’ve also wondered about the train’s schedule. I get up at 4:40 in the morning and take the early train to work. A train comes every 20 minutes in the morning. The problem is what happens after work: the train only comes every hour. When you have to make a bigger effort to go home, it can add stress to the day. It’s easy to get stuck at the train station at the end of the day.

There is, of course, another alternative: driving. I quickly found out that driving to work only takes me about 20 minutes. The ride back? It can easily take an hour-and-a-half. Because of the traffic, I sometimes prefer the train.

More trains at the end of the day and less delays wouldn’t only be nice for me. It would help improve a lot of lives. And the freeway wouldn’t be as jammed. They could charge a bit more for the train ticket if it was less prone to delays and the schedule was more convenient.

Maintenance and simple improvements to increase reliability could save Illinois train commuters more than 800,000 hours of delays every year.

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“There are a lot of cheap and easy ways we could make biking—and riding the bus—easier in the city.”

—Emily O., Chicago

Overall, biking is a reasonable way to get around in the city, even in the winter. The city has made it easier to get around by putting lanes on streets like Dearborn and Milwaukee, and that’s making biking a bigger part of the culture. One thing Chicago and other cities could do is create more protected bike lanes. I don’t think it would be very expensive—you just bolt barriers to the ground. Having more bike lanes would have an overall benefit for people in the city. It would help get rid of pollution and parking issues.

Of course, they do need to fill the potholes: People sometimes talk about how potholes affect drivers, but they also affect bike riders.

When I’m not on my bike, I take the bus. I don’t know why this happens, but one bus—the #74 Fullerton bus—is supposed to arrive every ten minutes; many times it doesn’t show up for 20 minutes. That can be a big deal for a rider. I also think there may be a cheap solution to this problem. The data is there to help figure out how to fix this situation: we have the information from the bus trackers. It would take a little more planning and some simple improvements. I would be happy to pay a little bit more for the bus fare if that money went into a dedicated fund to fix these problems.

Drivers in metropolitan Chicago spend an extra 71 hours a year stuck in traffic. Cost-effective alternatives like transit, walking or biking are often inaccessible or unsafe for many.

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At UPS, a five minute delay per driver per day costs $105 million per year.

Efficient transportation is critical to UPS and its ability to provide superior service to its millions of customers. Illinois, and especially the Chicago region, is an important part of the UPS transportation network and is home to the company's largest ground sorting facility in the nation. The highway, rail and intermodal capabilities found in Chicago are not only important to UPS, they're an essential part of our country's transportation system. Unfortunately, much work and financial resources are needed to bring this network up to 21st century standards.

The effect and costs of poor infrastructure are staggering. At UPS, a five minute delay per driver per day costs $105 million per year. For UPS and other businesses around Illinois, investing more in transportation would not only reduce these costs, it would allow them to better serve customers.

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