Illinois

Let’s Revitalize the Chicago Pedway – Op-Ed in Crain’s Chicago Business

Let’s Revitalize the Chicago Pedway

Op-Ed by ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner

It’s a frigid Chicago winter day and downtown sidewalks are slushy and icy, or it’s a rainy summer day. What does a savvy Chicagoan do? Take the Pedway.

Want to go quickly from the CTA to City Hall, pick up coffee, and get a new watchband on the way? Take the Pedway. Looking for new art displays? Check out the Pedway. Entrepreneurs, there are available storefront opportunities with increased Pedway foot traffic.

The Chicago Pedway is an underutilized civic asset. It can be a great way to get around downtown, an engaging civic arts and culture space, and a good location for shops and restaurants.

If, today, someone proposed building a new underground Pedway, you’d ask, “How can we afford it?” The Chicago Pedway, however, is already built. Let’s leverage that investment with strategic actions to make it work better. Better navigation, better coordination and better activation.

Better navigation and wayfinding: Let’s face it—Pedway signs should be larger, eye-catching and more consistent; maps should be easier to understand and on smartphone apps; and directions should be clearer and easier to follow. Good wayfinding should connect Pedway users to above-ground locations and to the Riverwalk, Navy Pier, and transit and train stations. Better wayfinding and easier navigation tools, both above and along the Pedway, will encourage more pedestrian use. This should work well for everybody, not just “Pedway-niks.”

Better coordination: The Pedway maps as a continuous system, but it’s actually spliced-together segments owned by different public and private owners. Coordinating Pedway operating hours, lighting, accessibility and safety helps everybody: Metra commuters from the Millennium Park and Van Buren Metra stations, and CTA train riders going to City Hall and downtown office buildings; tourists going from east of Michigan Avenue hotels to Loop theaters and restaurants; and downtown workers and residents going from place to place. The recent Chicago Pedway Revitalization Study identified high-value repairs and upgrades for action.

Better activation: Better placemaking activates the Pedway and engages people. Pedway users shop at the retail spaces in Block 37 and Illinois Center, and Goodman Williams Group’s retail analysis shows growth potential for more pedestrian-friendly businesses and sales tax revenues. Space p11 is a new Pedway-level gallery for off-grid art, architecture and culture. The Chicago Loop Alliance sponsors Pop-Up activations, and Broadway in Chicago does pop-up holiday caroling and theater. The Vamonde smartphone app provides a fun adventure. The Pedway should be a lively and cool space.

My organization, the Environmental Law & Policy Center, Broadway in Chicago and Chicago Loop Alliance are partnering with the city of Chicago, Cook County and building owners to repair and revitalize the Chicago Pedway.

Let’s seize the opportunities to improve pedestrian use and access. Let’s tap more retail business potential. Let’s make the Pedway a vibrant underground space for arts and culture for Chicagoans and visitors. We’ve done the heaviest lifting already by building the Pedway—now let’s use our imagination and take the practical steps to make it a great cityspace.

This post originally ran in Crain’s Chicago Business. Read the article HERE.

Chicago Tribune Editorial: Should the Illinois Tollway keep spending this $25 million?

Should the Illinois Tollway keep spending this $25 million? 

By Editorial Board

Northern Illinois has its share of public works projects that have languished in the “planning stages” for years without ever seeing an inaugural bucket of concrete poured. Millions spent, nothing delivered. A third airport in Peotone comes to mind. So do the Iliana toll road and, for those with long memories, the Crosstown Expressway proposal of the 1960s and ’70s.

You probably can put the Route 53 extension on the same dusty shelf. Proposals for an expressway that would extend Route 53 into Lake County stretch back to the 1960s.

But now the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the arbiter over which transportation projects get whatever federal funding is available for the region, has taken the Route 53 extension off of its priority list. When you say “no federal funding,” you’ve said a lot.

Unbowed, the Illinois Tollway is forging ahead with a $25 million environmental study launched last year to help officials determine if the proposed toll road is needed to handle growth in Lake, northern Cook and eastern McHenry counties. The 25-mile extension would link up Arlington Heights in Cook County to Grayslake in Lake County, and widen a stretch of Route 120.

So while the already dim prospects for the project have grown ever dimmer, the Illinois Tollway is still spending the $25 million. Why?

Tollway officials say they hope this study will help bring finality to a half-century debate: Should this project be built or not? The officials say the study is examining a wide geographic area and not just the Route 53 corridor. Conceivably, the Route 53 extension or some other notion — improved arterial roads? — could emerge as a potential solution for the area’s traffic snarls. CMAP then could return the Route 53 extension or a replacement project to its priority list.

The question is whether those two “coulds” justify continuing to spend the $25 million. The Tollway by itself arguably can provide all the finality it wants: If CMAP is downgrading this idea, we’re finished spending money on it.

The Tribune’s Mary Wisniewski quotes former Tollway Director Bill Morris, of Grayslake, as calling the agency “irresponsible” for spending millions of dollars on yet another environmental study. Last year the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a consumer advocacy organization, listed the Route 53 project, which if ever built would carry a price tag of $2.65 billion, on its roster of the nation’s most wasteful highway boondoggles.

Still, the proposed extension has always had influential friends. They include the Illinois Economic Policy Institute, a think tank whose board members represent the construction industry and labor unions — entities that stand to profit if the extension ever gets built. Proponents of the extension argue it would bring jobs and commerce to Lake County.

But for now the proposal to extend Route 53 is going nowhere.

Here’s free-of-charge advice for the directors of the Tollway:

Your chairman, Bob Schillerstrom, says the environmental study is in its early stage. Yes, your staff sincerely thinks spending this $25 million could — emphasis ours — eventually lead to some project that CMAP would rule eligible for federal funding. But to those of us who pay the tolls, that sounds like a $25 million hope that the study will justify spending gazillions on new concrete.

With all of that, why not give the Route 53 extension — or any new derivative of it — a well-deserved rest? Why not declare any such project comatose for now? Why not revive it if and when the localities involved agree on whatever road improvements they desire?

And why not admit that continuing to spend the $25 million doesn’t bring finality to this long debate. It only perpetuates it.

Howard Learner on the State of Solar in the Midwest

ELPC’s President and Executive Director, Howard Learner, joined SEIA’s President and Chief Executive Officer, Abigail Ross Hopper, November 14 at the Solar Power Midwest conference to discuss key trends facing the solar industry in the Midwest. There was a discussion on the state of distributed and utility-scale solar since the passage of critical energy legislation in Illinois and Michigan, how recent electoral outcomes factor into regional opportunities and challenges to solar, and how effective strategic partnerships can make solar a more dominant player in the Midwest energy landscape.

Howard closed the conversation with a call of optimism for the future of clean energy saying “We can blow through the 7GW of solar we have in the Midwest if we get the implementation right and seize the opportunities presented.”

Energywire: Board Shuts Down Vistra Effort to Fast-Track Coal Plant Ruling

Board shuts down Vistra effort to fast-track coal plant ruling

November 5, 2018

By Jeffrey Tomich

The Illinois Pollution Control Board denied a request by Vistra Energy Corp. to expedite new rules that would let the company run its dirtier and more profitable coal plants in the state more frequently.

In an order last week, the five-member board said the Irving, Texas-based power producer’s claims of “economic harms” didn’t justify an expedited rulemaking.

“The board is not convinced that the need to address wholesale energy market issues should control the substance or timing of proposed amendments to a substantive environmental regulation,” the six-page order said.

The order comes a month after the board proposed modifications to Illinois’ Multi-Pollutant Standard (MPS) that includes pollution limits for Vistra’s 18 coal units representing more than 5,000 megawatts (Energywire, Oct. 5).

The Pollution Control Board’s proposal is a sort of compromise between the power producer’s effort to get relief from existing emissions rules and critics, including Attorney General Lisa Madigan (D) and a coalition of environmental groups, which want to keep existing standards in place.

Vistra had asked the board to finalize the rule change by Feb. 1, after which it would be subject to review by a legislative committee before taking effect. Madigan and environmental advocates challenged the request.

Vistra CEO Curt Morgan told analysts during a Friday conference call that the board’s proposal is “reasonable and fair” and he now expects a final outcome in April or May, after which the company could make decisions related to the future of its Illinois coal fleet.

The power producer has suggested it may shutter coal units in southern Illinois based on what executives view as inadequate capacity payments — payments made to ensure power plants are ready to run during periods of peak demand.

Morgan said Vistra is continuing work to “optimize” its Illinois portfolio and believes it can achieve a “reasonably significant” improvement in earnings from its Illinois plants. The company will be ready to act on that plan as soon as it gets an outcome from the Pollution Control Board.

“We’re going to be in a position to execute immediately,” Morgan said. “If the deal goes through the way it is now, we know what we would do. It’s just a matter of timing. But we also have been contingency planning, so if something else happened, then we would be prepared for that, as well.”

A possible wild card in the administrative rulemaking process? Politics.

Illinois voters will elect a governor tomorrow, and polls point to Democratic challenger J.B. Pritzker defeating incumbent Republican Bruce Rauner.

Pritzker earlier this year criticized the rule proposed at Vistra’s request by the Illinois EPA.

In response to a questionnaire sent to candidates by the Chicago Sun-Times, the Democrat said of the proposed MPS rule change: “I will stand on the side of science and reason and not scrap limits on pollution.”

But would a new governor, during his first months in office and facing a fiscal crisis, step in and derail an administrative rule initiated by his predecessor?

Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, one of the groups challenging Vistra’s petition, believes a Pritzker administration would reassess the state’s position on the rule proposal.

“You’re dealing with a proposal that came from the Illinois EPA,” he said.

While the board wouldn’t explicitly seek out a new governor’s stance before issuing a ruling, Learner said he believes this week’s election will provide important context for their decision.

“They’ll be interested to hear what [the administration’s] position is if a new governor is elected,” he said.

READ FULL STORY

Inside Climate News: Can Illinois Handle a 2000% Jump in Solar Capacity? We’re About to Find Out

Can Illinois handle a 2000% jump in solar capacity? We’re about to find out

October 30, 2018

By Dan Gearino

Illinois is about to learn what it takes to manage a nearly 20-fold increase in solar power.

A new state law requires utilities to dramatically increase their purchases of renewable energy, with a goal of getting at least 25 percent of the state’s electricity from clean energy by 2025, a large part of it from solar.

For a state starting with very little solar power now—less than 100 megawatts—becoming a Midwest solar leader will mean building an industry infrastructure almost from scratch, and doing it fast.

To ramp up by the deadline, the state needs two things: workers and projects.

People involved in the effort describe an atmosphere of almost chaotic progress. State officials and clean energy advocates want Illinois to be a model for how to expand clean energy in a way that provides targeted help to the local communities.

“The stakes are high,” said David Kolata, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board, a Chicago-based consumer advocacy group involved in the process. “I think we have a good plan and we have reasons to be optimistic in general, but there’s no question we’ll face some roadblocks and things we didn’t think of.”

Hundreds of people have enrolled in job-training programs across the state, organized by nonprofit groups as part of the law. Developers are submitting proposals for new solar projects. And some of the established developers are starting to complain that the process for selecting projects—designed to give a wide number of developers a chance—is flawed.

Catapulting Illinois to a Midwest Solar Leader

Illinois ranks 35th in the country in solar power right now, with 98 megawatts, less than 1 percent of its electricity generation. Development has been slow here in part because the state lacks the supportive policies from the government and utilities that have boosted solar elsewhere.

Five years from now, analysts expect to see nearly 2,000 megawatts of solar power in Illinois and the state in 17th place nationally, according to Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables and the Solar Energy Industries Association. No other state has Illinois’ combination of starting from so low and being on track to rise so high during that period.

“It’s going to catapult Illinois to the forefront of the solar market, and put our state on the path to the renewable future we need to limit the worst impacts of climate change,” said MeLena Hessel, policy advocate for the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

This boom in renewable energy stems from the state’s Future Energy Jobs Act, a 2016 law that provided subsidies for two nuclear power plants and also set the target to get 25 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2025, among other requirements. The renewable energy provisions were part of a legislative compromise to get enough votes to approve the nuclear power subsidies. (The law was upheld by a federal court in September.)

READ FULL STORY

 

6 Reasons Why this Tax is a Crummy Way to Improve Illinois’ Roads and Bridges

6 Reasons Why this Tax is a Crummy Way to Improve Illinois’ Roads and Bridges

The political rhetoric on a possible new vehicle miles traveled (VMT) tax begs the question of whether or not this makes good sense on the merits. It doesn’t. The VMT tax is not a sound or fair way to fund Illinois’ transportation infrastructure.

Current gas tax revenues are insufficient to meet Illinois’ infrastructure needs. Oil companies, the trucking industry and a few politicians propose raising more revenues by shifting from gas taxes to VMT taxes, which charge drivers based on how many miles they travel. This would require installing a new onboard tracking device in every vehicle, and a new state bureaucracy to calculate taxes owed and assign revenues to appropriate jurisdictions.

If Illinois legislators believe that more funding is needed for infrastructure investments, then raising the gas tax is fairer, simpler and better policy. Twenty-seven states, including Indiana, Iowa and Michigan, have raised or reformed their gas taxes since 2013. Gas and other motor fuel taxes are: easily administered with existing mechanisms; capture revenues from out-of-state drivers who use Illinois roads so they pay their fair share for repairs and improvements, and effectively price carbon pollution while incentivizing cleaner cars that provide air quality improvement benefits for everyone. Here’s why the VMT tax doesn’t work well for Illinois.

First, a state VMT tax is unfair for “crossroads” states, like Illinois, with interstate highways used by millions of out-of-state drivers. Changing to VMT taxes would give a free ride to out-of-state motorists who now pay Illinois gas taxes to maintain the Illinois highways that they use. Why would Illinois policymakers want Illinois drivers to subsidize highway use for out-of-state motorists?

Second, current gas taxes are simple to administer at the pump and can be adjusted using existing mechanisms. The VMT tax would instead require installing new technology in personal cars and a costly new bureaucracy.

Third, the VMT tax would penalize modern new clean hybrid and electric vehicles that pollute much less than old internal combustion engine and diesel vehicles. These cleaner cars produce air quality, public health and other environmental quality benefits for everyone. With federal tax credits incentivizing purchases of electric vehicles, why create a new VMT tax system that charges people more?

Fourth, gas taxes price carbon to discourage greenhouse gas pollution and promote solutions. If you’re driving fuel efficient, low-polluting cars like the Chevy Bolt, Ford Focus, Nissan Leaf or Toyota Prius, then you’d pay the same VMT tax as someone driving a highly-polluting gas guzzler. Illinois won’t face a large erosion of gas tax revenues from electric vehicle market penetration for many years. There’s no real problem to solve now.

Fifth, heavy trucks that cause an extraordinary amount of road wear-and-tear could get off easy under VMT taxes. The Congressional Budget Office’s March 2011 report, in comparing gas taxes and VMT taxes, emphasized the disproportionately high road wear from trucks compared to miles driven: “Heavy trucks travel less than 10 percent of all vehicle miles, but their costs per mile are far higher than are those for passenger vehicles, and they are responsible for most pavement damage.”

Sixth, many people have sincere privacy concerns that VMT taxes require drivers to install tracking devices that enable governments to view their mileage, locations and time of travel. Pew Research’s February 2015 poll found that 67 percent of Americans said that “Not having someone watch you or listen to you without your permission” was “Very important” to them, with an additional 20 percent responding “Somewhat important.”

If legislators are reluctant to raise gas taxes, then why do they think VMT taxes would be any more popular? Illinois policymakers can support gas tax increases — as many states have already done — to improve transportation infrastructure. A VMT tax is the wrong tool to address Illinois’ transportation challenges.

This post originally ran in Crain’s Chicago Business. Read the article HERE

Energy News Network: Illinois Pollution Board Proposes New Emissions Rules in Dynegy Coal Saga

Illinois pollution board proposes new emissions rules in Dynegy coal saga

By Kari Lydersen

The Illinois Pollution Control Board is taking public comments on an amended emissions rule for Dynegy’s coal plants in the state.

Last year, the pollution control board had put forth rules written by the Illinois EPA with much input — even line edits — from Dynegy itself, as emails and documents obtained by environmental groups showed.

Clean air advocates say the new proposed rules are better than those earlier ones but still do not do enough to limit pollution from the aging coal plants.

“They are lower than what Illinois EPA was proposing and lower than what Dynegy is asking for, but still significantly higher than what the company has emitted in recent years,” said James Gignac, lead Midwest energy analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The company Vistra, which acquired Dynegy this year, released a statement saying it supports the pollution control board’s proposal, which includes stricter emissions caps than those previously recommended but keeps intact what’s known as a mass-based approach, in which the company gets a flat, fleet-wide cap instead of one based on the amount of power generated, or a rate-based approach. The proposal also includes a measure ardently backed by clean air advocates: that when a plant closes or is “mothballed,” the emissions it had been allowed be removed from the total cap.

Clean air advocates say they feel they are now in a waiting game, with much hanging on the public comment period and how the board responds to comments, including whether it makes total emissions caps for the plants stricter.

Dirty and clean plants

Opponents of the mass-based approach fear it will let Dynegy continue running or ramp up its dirtier coal plants, while potentially closing or ramping down cleaner plants that are more expensive to run.

“Any plant under a mass-based approach can pollute more and another one can pollute less — it still means an older plant with less pollution control can up its emissions,” said Toba Pearlman, staff attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “[The recent proposal] is probably good for Vistra and bad for the people that live around the plants… We do think this is part of a larger strategy for Dynegy to squeeze Illinois for more money on their plants.”

The NRDC and Sierra Club in May released a report showing that Dynegy’s coal plants could close without affecting Illinois’ energy supply, noting the plants’ output could be replaced with renewable energy.

Vistra’s statement praised the latest proposal for allowing the company “the flexibility to assess and optimize its fleet of power plants to compete in the market.” It added that while Vistra’s subsidiary Luminant, which controls the plants, “supported the IEPA proposal, the company believes the IPCB proposal to be thoughtful and reasonable. Luminant will work constructively through the remainder of the process and looks forward to fully implementing the new standards.”

Dynegy acquired the five plants in 2013, with then-owner Ameren practically paying the company to take them off its hands. Since then Dynegy has worked on multiple fronts to try to keep the plants profitable, including a failed attempt to include supports in the 2016 Future Energy Jobs Act and an ongoing effort to change capacity market structures or switch markets, along with pushing for less stringent pollution requirements.

Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, noted that the pollution limits being amended have been on the books for a decade.

“They had plenty of time to adjust and retrofit their plants to come into compliance,” he said. “When Dynegy bought those plants, they knew what the standards were. And when Vistra bought Dynegy, they knew…but when the deadline came, they turned to a backroom deal.”

READ FULL STORY

 

Crain’s Chicago Business: Michigan Offers to Pay Millions for Illinois Asian Carp Project, but Rauner Balks

 

Michigan Offers to Pay Millions for Illinois Project, but Rauner Balks

Greg Hinz On Politics

It’s an unusual plan: A neighbor state would pick up most of the tab for efforts to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. What’s keeping Rauner from signing up?

States nowadays have trouble paying for the stuff within their borders that’s important, much less offering to pick up the tab for a project in another state. And when they do, you’d think the recipient would say yes.

But not Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner. Though the state of Michigan is offering to pony up millions of dollars a year to pay the costs of operating new Asian carp-blocking locks along the Illinois River at Brandon Road near Joliet—with seven other states and the Canadian province of Ontario chipping in, too—Rauner is not saying yes, at least so far.

The usual offer to pay costs for a project located in Illinois comes from outgoing Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder—like Rauner, a Republican.

In a phone interview yesterday, Snyder strongly pushed a “fair share” plan in which Illinois would pay just $132,700 a year of the estimated $8 million needed to operate the Brandon facility. Michigan itself would pay $3.3 million a year, based on its share of the total Great Lakes coastline, and legislative leaders in that state are committed to pay that amount for at least five years, more than $16 million total.

“We’re interested in (protecting) the Great Lakes,” which scientists say could suffer enormous losses to native fish if the voracious carp make it that far, Snyder said. “Why wouldn’t Illinois be excited about sharing project costs?”

Snyder said that regular discussions have been occurring for months among officials from the various states and provinces, including Wisconsin, New York, Ohio, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Indiana. Now, it’s time to act, he said.

“We’d just as soon quit dating and get married,” Snyder quipped. “We’d like to get an agreement with Illinois.”

Michigan is so interested that it will pick up any other state’s portion of the bill if they can’t pay it themselves, he said.

Rauner, in an interview after he appeared before the Crain’s editorial board yesterday, indicated some interest. But he didn’t offer to sign up, either.

“The idea certainly has merit. We’ve been talking to (Snyder) about it,” Rauner said. But “we’re not committed to it.”

Rauner declined to elaborate, but there has been considerable back and forth lately about who will pay for construction costs that could hit $200 million or more.

Since I last wrote about this in May, the Rauner administration has dropped its request to double the width of locks to 1,200 feet to help the barge industry. Officials say barge needs can be accommodated in other locations.

In addition, Congress is in the final stages of passing legislation that directs the Army Corps of Engineers to finalize its Brandon Road study and put a specific proposal on the table by early next year. The legislation also would require the feds to pay at least 80 percent of construction costs.

That still would leave Illinois with a capital bill, but according to local environmental leader Howard Learner of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, other states are willing to pick up part of the construction costs, too.

“Rauner needs to find a way to say yes,” Learner said.

Snyder’s comments came as Michigan released results of a public opinion poll that indicate 80 percent of Great Lakes residents want action soon on the Brandon Road proposal.

READ COLUMN HERE

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Daily Herald: In Transit: App for Route 53 Extension Feedback Takes Flak

September 3, 2018

In Transit: App for Route 53 Extension Feedback Takes Flak 
By Marni Pyke

If the Founding Fathers had used Poll Everywhere at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia — would the final result be a better Constitution?

It might have depended on how fast they could type.

Illinois tollway consultants are using Poll Everywhere, a web-based audience participation system, at meetings with a group of local officials and others advising the agency on whether to extend Route 53 into Lake County.

The question has roiled Lake County for years, dividing residents over weighty problems like right of way, traffic, pollution and cost.

At a meeting Thursday, those divisions extended to use of the smartphone app to conduct the meeting, with some opponents of the new highway saying the technology is silencing their voices.

“I am extremely frustrated with how the tollway has engaged the stakeholders overall,” said Mayor Joseph Mancino of Hawthorn Woods, which could be bisected by a Route 53 extension. “Not only is the application unstable at best, it severely limits our input and quite frankly is a bit insulting to the stakeholders who are forced to use it.”

The tollway “wants to be able to parse through and say, ‘this is what people said,’ but that’s not what you do at a meeting where you want to have stakeholder participation,” stakeholder and Environmental Law and Policy Center chief Howard Learner said.

 

READ FULL ARTICLE

ELPC Supports Specific Components of Illinois EPA Volkswagen Settlement Fund Plan

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Al Grosboll, Environmental Law & Policy Center, AGrosboll@elpc.org (217) 652-3866

 

ELPC Supports Specific Components of Illinois EPA Volkswagen Settlement Fund Plan

STATEMENT BY AL GROSBOLL LEGISLATIVE DIRECTOR & SENIOR POLICY ADVOCATE ENVIRONMENTAL LAW & POLICY CENTER

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency today released its final plan for spending the state’s $107 million share of the $2.7 billion Volkswagen Mitigation Trust funds. The Environmental Law & Policy Center has been active in discussions about the plan. Al Grosboll, ELPC’s Legislative Director and Senior Policy Advocate, said in response to the final plan:

“The Environmental Law & Policy Center is supportive of specific components in the Illinois EPA plan,” Grosboll said. “While ELPC will continue to raise some questions about the Agency’s plan, we are pleased the IEPA included funding for electric school buses and electric charging stations for light-duty vehicles. The inclusion of these programs reflects the Agency’s responsiveness to citizen requests and environmental concerns.”

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