As Rebuild Illinois enters its fourth year, a new Illinois Economic Policy Institute (ILEPI) study evaluates the state’s progress implementing transportation projects. This report provides a complete analysis of IDOT revenues, expenditures, and project spending for FYs 2020 and 2021, the first two years of Rebuild Illinois. It is ultimately found that while IDOT expenditures on the whole reflect increased spending, further analysis indicates less construction spending than would be expected following Rebuild Illinois.
Rebuild Illinois resulted in an additional $1.44 billion in FY20 and $1.97 billion in FY21 for transportation funding across the state, generated by increases to the motor fuel tax (MFT), vehicle registrations, and certificates of title. Additionally, bonding authority was increased by $11 billion under two transportation bond funds to support a variety of highway, transit, and multimodal projects. As a result, a commensurate increase in annual IDOT construction and bond spending would be expected.
Focusing first on annual funding increases, the table below summarizes estimated Rebuild Illinois revenue compared to actual expenditure increases over FY19 (the last year before Rebuild Illinois). This analysis specifically takes into account the major transportation funding accounts under IDOT for FY20 and FY21. The comparison shows that expenditures from the Road Fund, RTA Capital Improvement Fund, and Downstate Mass Transportation Capital Improvement Fund were all significantly less than the annual increases generated by Rebuild Illinois. Road Fund expenditures actually decreased between FY19 and FY20, and the only reason there was a $566 million increase in FY21 can be attributed to interfund borrowing with the Road Fund loaning money to the General Revenue Fund. This indicates that despite massive revenue increases, IDOT has not shown a corresponding increase in project funding from these accounts. Conversely, the State Construction Account was the only funding account to see an increase in annual funding in which expenditures exceeded estimated Rebuild Illinois revenues.
The bonding component of Rebuild Illinois also indicates that projects are progressing, albeit slower than expected. As summarized in the table below, while appropriated funding was significantly increased for both Transportation Bond Series A and the Multimodal Transportation Bond beginning in FY20, the amount of money “released” – meaning funds that are available to be spent – and expended remain fairly low. In particular, the Series A Bond has only released 17% of total appropriated funding as of FY21. Understanding Rebuild Illinois is a six-year program, it would be expected to see at least one-third of total bond funding released within the first two years.
Overall, the review of both annual spending and bond funds allows for a full account of transportation funding under Rebuild Illinois. These analyses indicate the influx of funding from Rebuild Illinois is not consistently seen in expenditures across the major transportation funding accounts. Particularly under the Road Fund – which receives the majority of new annual funding for IDOT – further questions should be asked. It is understood that construction projects are unique in that a project can be “let” and begin to progress without any funding being expended. However, two years into Rebuild Illinois with negligible increases in expenditures under the Road Fund is surprising.
In the end, it is crucial for Illinois to both adequately fund and manage projects to ensure safe and efficient transportation systems for residents and businesses statewide. A comprehensive capital bill had not been passed for over a decade prior to Rebuild Illinois. In that time, state funding was dwindling and infrastructure systems were crumbling. The number of state roadway miles considered “backlogged” increased 85% between 2010 and 2015. The number of backlog miles was expected to double by 2023 if new funding had not been identified. Similarly, Chicago regional transit systems would have required $37 billion to address infrastructure backlog if funding had not been identified.
Rebuild Illinois provided increased funding to begin to address these issues. However, it is a concern when needed projects are not delivered in a timely manner. And Rebuild Illinois is only one component of funding, with the recently passed federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) providing an increase in annual transportation funding and a variety of grant opportunities. Illinois must be prepared to act upon these opportunities to maximize funding.
While this report indicates that increased transportation funding under Rebuild Illinois has not been fully realized, it is also important to understand why. Unfortunately, this proves to be the more difficult question. Staffing shortages, bureaucratic requirements, or other inefficient processes may all contribute. Recently signed into law, Senate Bill 1233 created the Blue-Ribbon Commission on Transportation Funding and Policy Act, which seeks to address many of these questions. It is fortunate Governor Pritzker and the General Assembly had the foresight to create this commission to support adequate and efficient transportation funding in the future.
For the complete analysis on Illinois’ transportation revenues, how they changed under Rebuild Illinois, and the distribution of funding across the state, see the ILEPI report.