Infrastructure Technology Institute
On November 13th, 2008, policy makers, transportation professionals, faculty, and students assembled at Northwestern for the Second Annual William O. Lipinski Symposium on Transportation Policy.
The Symposium brings together transportation leaders to discuss innovative approaches for planning, financing, and constructing transportation infrastructure. Using the 100th anniversary of Daniel H. Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago as a vantage point, speakers and participants at the Symposium envisioned a future transportation system for the Chicago region to meet the accessibility, capacity, quality, and sustainability needs of our society and economy for the next century. The series of presentations and panel discussions identified current challenges facing transportation systems locally and nationally and explored avenues for change.
After former U.S. Representative William O. Lipinski opened the forum named in his honor, U.S. Representative John L. Mica (R-FL), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, discussed the need for a national strategic infrastructure plan. Rep. Mica emphasized the importance of using targeted infrastructure investments to stimulate economic recovery, and he advocated a clear financial plan and the use of objective project selection criteria. Finally, Rep. Mica spoke of the need to make project implementation processes more efficient, citing the rapid replacement of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis.
The theme address was given by Carl Smith, Franklyn Bliss Snyder Professor of English, History and American Studies at Northwestern University. The author of The Plan of Chicago: Daniel Burnham and the Remaking of the American City (U. of Chicago Press, 2006), Prof. Smith provided an illustrated summary of the 1909 Burnham Plan, discussed conditions of the city and its transportation system at the time of the plan, and described the impacts of Burnham’s work, in terms of both specific implementations and general principles that have affected the city to this day.
Dr. Michael Toman of Johns Hopkins University spoke next, outlining the global energy picture, its relationship to the environment, climate, and national security, and the implications for transportation. Discussing global warming, Dr. Toman pointed out that one-third of U.S. CO2 emissions come from transportation, and that pricing options are likely to show earlier effects than technologies on reducing both energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
Observing that energy simply can not be left out of future transportation planning, Toman noted that the global market is affected by exploding demand for energy from China and India, as witnessed by the 2008 jump in oil prices and the continuing escalation of the costs of construction materials.
Dr. Martin Wachs of the RAND Corporation was the last speaker of the morning session. He discussed critical policy and financial issues facing transportation, key among which were congestion mitigation, efficiency of overall transport, fiscal sufficiency, and equity. He contrasted the Burnham era, when solutions were found in infrastructure investments, with contemporary approaches that emphasize financial instruments to influence behavior and provide sustainable support.
Wachs described the highway transportation finance crunch in terms of increasing needs and costs contrasted with decreased user-tax revenues due to increasing fuel economy and use of biofuels. He stated that user-based financing was the key to transportation infrastructure investment, and he made a strong case for use-based pricing, including time-of-day (congestion) pricing, cordon pricing (as in London and Stockholm), and mileage charges using vehicle tracking technologies. He cited examples of the effectiveness of use-based pricing in reducing congestion and roadway damage and underscored the political challenges of implementing such financing and demand-management schemes.
A panel discussion concluded the morning session, extending the earlier talks and their implications for Chicago. Larry Johnson of Argonne National Laboratory predicted changes in vehicle technologies, saying the hybrids would become standard, taking advantage of advanced batteries and regenerative braking. Professor Joseph Schwieterman of DePaul University discussed key issues for the Chicago region, including assuring the efficiency of freight transportation and reinvigorating public transit.
ITI Director Joseph Schofer made closing remarks, urging that Chicago recapture a leadership role in transportation innovation. He emphasized that challenges ahead revolve around sustainability of key resources – energy, climate, and funding and the road ahead will be paved with a mixture of capital investments and operational improvements built on advanced communications and computing technologies. Schofer closed with a call to increase collaboration among industry, government, and the several universities in the region that have strength in transportation.
At the lunch break, William O. Lipinski presented U.S. Representative James Oberstar (DFL-MN), Chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, with the inaugural David F. Schulz Award for Outstanding Public Service in Transportation and Infrastructure Policy. Present during the ceremony were Jo Ann and Bobby Schulz, the widow and son of David Schulz, the late founding director of Northwestern’s Infrastructure Technology Institute. In his acceptance speech, Rep. Oberstar called for action to restore our rapidly deteriorating infrastructure.
At the start of the afternoon session, Frank Kruesi, Director of the City of Chicago’s Washington, D.C. Office of Intergovernmental Relations, emphasized the centrality of Chicago in the nation’s transportation system. He described some of the important transportation initiatives underway in the City and the region, including re-establishing the importance of transit by expanding the Chicago Transit Authority rail lines; the O’Hare Airport Modernization Program; the Midwest High Speed Rail Initiative; and the transportation elements of Chicago’s 2016 Olympic bid. Paraphrasing Daniel Burnham, Kruesi observed that “…it takes money to stir men’s blood.”
The afternoon continued with a panel of members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee: Rep. Jerry F. Costello (D-IL), Rep. John J. Duncan, Jr. (R-TN), Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), and Rep. Thomas E. Petri (R-WI). The Members shared their views of future transportation needs and issues, as well as the expected and essential elements of the forthcoming surface transportation
Rep. Petri argued that transportation is not high enough on the national agenda; he noted that President Eisenhower believed that the real strength of the country was in productivity, not in arms. He called for a renewed national commitment to bridges and public transit.
Rep. Petri spoke in support of project CREATE – the Chicago Regional Environmental and Transportation Efficiency Program, the public private partnership to enhance rail freight efficiency in Chicago, because of the benefits it will produce for the nation. He observed that the U.S. now spends about 2% of GDP on transportation, while China spends 9%. Rep. Duncan expressed concern over the state of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), reminding the group that Congress appropriated $8 billion from the general fund in 2008 to keep the HTF solvent. To make the best use of these funds, it will be important to streamline the project implementation process. This will cut costs and speed project delivery.
Rep. Costello joined in support of the need for and value of reinvesting in surface transportation infrastructure as a part of the recovery program. He said that every $1 billion invested in transportation infrastructure generates 34,000 person-years of employment and an overall return of $6 billion.
Rep. Costello noted that we cannot promise to do more and to cut taxes at the same time. To get support for additional funds it is necessary to make it clear what benefits will be produced; this should take the form of a national plan for transportation.
Rep. Lipinski underscored the value of megaprojects, large-scale public infrastructure investments of true national significance. Such initiatives require the support of broad coalitions. He predicted that the surface transportation reauthorization bill would begin with a clean slate, offering great opportunities for moving forward.
He declared 2009 as the Year for Transportation, noting the need to reauthorize highway, aviation and transit programs. Directing his remarks more specifically to Chicago, Rep. Lipinski noted the need for more federal support to deal with at-grade railroad crossings, since Illinois has the second largest number of these crossings among the states.
In an interchange among panelist about successes with large projects in Europe, Rep. Lipinski observed that Europeans have higher expectations for
service quality and greater willingness to pay for it. Rep. Petri said that in the U.S., infrastructure investment is a hard sell, but Americans expect projects to be done well.
The afternoon ended with a panel discussion by state and local leaders. John McCarron, former editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune and adjunct lecturer in Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, suggested the need for more communication with journalists to explain the need for and value of infrastructure to the public: citizens and decision makers need to know why transportation projects are so costly, and what value they produce.
State Representative Elaine Nekritz, chair of the Illinois House Railroad Subcommittee, observed that we have neither a state nor a national plan for transportation. She contrasted that with public-private collaborations elsewhere that seem to produce results. She argued for making freight transportation a key issue because of its importance for economic competitiveness, and she supported expansion of transportation infrastructure to increase capacity.
Milton R. Sees, Illinois Secretary of Transportation, stated that while infrastructure costs money, it generates benefits that produce more money for the economy. Without additional funds, there are severe limits on what the state can do today to improve the condition of transportation infrastructure. Under the current budget situation in Illinois, bridge maintenance is necessarily the main priority.
The legacy of Daniel Burnham and his Plan of Chicago was the underlying theme for this Second Annual Lipinski Symposium. Like Burnham, participants agreed on the critical importance of efficient transportation infrastructure and service to ensure the success of our economy and society. There was broad support for plans – grand plans – for transportation at the regional, state, and national levels. Those plans must be based on a system-wide perspective that balances needs, values and impacts. To justify the costs and secure funds to meet them, it will be essential to help decision makers and their constituents understand the links among transportation, economic competitiveness, and social success.