Tagexplanation

Federal funding primer and why projects take so long to construct

Many Chicagoans who ride bikes are in awe (myself included) at how fast the Kinzie Street protected bike lane (the first of its kind in the city) has been designed and constructed in four weeks.

I explain how it’s been possible to do something so fast:

  1. Federally funded projects, like “commuter bicycle parking” (u-rack manufacturing and installation, using CMAQ federal funding) in Chicago, are under the control of the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), which must review and approve every design.¬† If it takes IDOT six months to tell the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) it does NOT approve and requires revisions, it will take IDOT another six months to review and approve the revised design. I experienced this directly when I was modifying the current bike parking contract. That’s one extra year added to a project based on a cumbersome state review process. Cities and their mayors have been advocating the federal government to give federal aid directly to cities so they can work faster.
  2. All design work must be completed and approved by everyone before a contract can be advertised for competitive bidding. Federal funds generally cannot be used to pay for local city forces, like CDOT crews, to do the work.
  3. Then comes the procurement process…

[This process is nearly the same for all cities.]

While there is room for improvement in the above process, it’s may not be fair to blame the City or CDOT for taking a long time to implement a project like Stony Island (tentatively scheduled for 2014), when Chicago doesn’t have authority over it’s own roads*.

If every project were locally funded – CDOT is funding the project with budgeted but unallocated funds – and approved, we could see a lot more projects like the Kinzie Street protected bike lane happening very fast. It should be obvious, also, that Mayor Emanuel and new CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein are extremely motivated to show their commitment to the transition plan as well as complete this project by the Bike To Work Day Rally on Friday, June 17th.

*This can be interpreted in two ways:

  1. There are roads in the city that are under the jurisdiction of the state providing an additional burden when it comes to modifying them.
  2. The process described above removes from the City authoritative control of its roads when projects modifying those roads are funded in part by the federal government.

Construction on Kinzie Street has been happening at a breakneck pace.

SAFETEA-LU extensions, explained

Why does Congress keep extending SAFETEA-LU?

SAFETEA-LU expired on September 30, 2009, but President Obama signed a 31-day extension on October 1, 2009. This is the same day the federal budget expired, and the extension, called a continuing resolution, also included funding for nearly all federal agencies to continue their work at current funding levels. The extension bill is H.R. 2918 (public law 111-68).

It’s now November 17, 2009, and what happened to that extension that expired on Halloween? A new bill was signed by the president (on October 30) that makes another extension, this time lasting until December 18, 2009. This extension is buried within H.R. 2996 (public law 111-88). Read the bill and you won’t find any explicit language that extends transportation funding.

Larry Ehl at the Washington (state) Department of Transportation (WashDOT) breaks down how to read between the lines to understand the text necessary to extend SAFETEA-LU. Essentially, H.R. 2996 modifies H.R. 2918. Subscribe to WashDOT’s Federal Transportation Issues blog to stay apprised.

Find bill text at Thomas, an online repository from the Library of Congress.

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