McLean County, Ill., Mulls Tech, Multi-Modal Transit in Regional Plan

Officials hope to roll with the changes under a new 28-year transportation plan approved by officials last week.

by Derek Beigh, The Pantagraph / December 4, 2017

(TNS) — BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — Officials don't have a grandiose vision of local transportation in 2045 — yet.

“We already see a trend toward autonomous cars that's leading toward a real paradigm change, where the era of the petroleum-fueled individual vehicle (ends),” said Jennifer Sicks, transportation planner for the McLean County Regional Planning Commission. “The question is how much can we predict about that. When we get to 2045, the answer is, not very much.”

Instead, officials hope to roll with the changes under a new 28-year transportation plan the commission approved this week. The commission assembles such a document every five years with the city of Bloomington, town of Normal, McLean County and Illinois Department of Transportation.

The 2017 version of the plan is the first to call for annual reports on progress, which will allow officials to adapt quickly to new transportation trends as they decide how to spend money. Right now those spending goals are stressing maintenance rather than growth; mobility through multiple modes of travel; safety for everyone; environmental and financial sustainability; and freight options.

Officials hope to maintain the system by keeping close tabs on what roads need work, including those in the commission's annual Transportation Improvement Program. They also will consider partnerships to pay for work, both among governments and between public and private entities, and track new technology, including autonomous cars, alternative fuel sources and high-speed rail.

As part of that, Sicks said, officials are doubling down on advocacy. That includes educating the public on why transportation money needs to be a priority and stumping for state and federal money, which has funded such projects as Normal's Uptown Station and the upcoming Hamilton Road extension in Bloomington.

“We’ve always done the outreach for federal grants, but there used to be a number of grant sources delivered on a formula basis: 'You have this many people, so you get this much money,'" said Sicks. “Fewer of them are working that way now. It’s gotten more competitive, so we need to compete."

Improving mobility includes not only adding trails, bike lanes and sidewalks but also bringing amenities like those to people who need them like the elderly and non-English speakers. Sicks said officials want to consider more where a person is going, rather than where they live, to help underserved groups get to important destinations.

For safety, the plan promotes a concept called "Vision Zero," which aims for zero fatalities and injuries while acknowledging that accidents are inevitable. It calls for a joint work session of the city, town and county to discuss that and make it a shared goal through infrastructure changes and outreach.

For sustainability, the plan pushes for air and water quality improvements, including lower emissions and less storm water runoff.

Sicks said the commission hopes to finish soon a study on local freight logistics that will help officials decide which goals to focus on in addition to infrastructure for large vehicles across the county.

Each category has specific metrics and target dates in the plan, ranging from measuring the ratio of streets to sidewalks every year to expanding safety training for cyclists, pedestrians, children and elderly drivers by fall 2019.

Though the 2017 plan is complete, Sicks encouraged residents interested in the future of transportation to reach out and watch for a new and improved commission website.

"We do this (update the plan) every five years to make sure we’re keeping on track with the things we know and getting better information about the things we tried to predict,” she said. “We want to be certain we’re all on the same page and moving in the same direction using all our resources, including our transportation system.”

©2017 The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Ill.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.