2525 Dirksen Federal Office Building, Chicago IL

Professor Piyushimita Thakuriah

Associate Director of Research Programs, Urban Transportation Center- Department of Urban Planning and Policy

The Urban Transportation Center at University of Illinois Chicago is an interdisciplinary research unit focused on urban transportation issues. The center works with national, state and local agencies on transportation analysis, modeling, and policy issues related to all surface transportation modes. As UIC is located in the hub of major local, regional, national, and international transportation systems, it is only natural that the University has a major commitment to conduct research dedicated to improving these transportation systems. We also educate the next generation of transportation professionals and provide continuing education and outreach to a broad array of stakeholders ranging from elected officials, agencies, community and advocacy groups, and citizens.


With impending reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) and a new state government in Springfield, there seems to be considerable uncertainty regarding future investment in transportation and transportation research. At the same time, there is no shortage of interesting and relevant transportation problems: congestion, air quality, equity, environment, energy, security, safety, finance, institutional constraints, and aging infrastructure, to name a few. We would like to highlight four key areas of transportation that are of particular relevance to Chicago, the region, the state, and the nation.

Congestion mitigation, management and air quality

Each peak hour traveler spends over one week per year delayed in traffic in Chicago. Fuel costs, and degradation of air quality are the tangible impacts of congestion. Loss of quality of life is a less tangible impact. Management of congestion in this region is dependent on an elaborate public transportation network that must be supported and enhanced to complement the highway and street network. Opportunities for the improved management of congestion, and more efficient operation of the transit network are available through the innovative use of information and technology. Modeling, policy analysis and application of the technology are critical in the following areas:

· Understanding the relationship among transportation investments, land use and sprawl

· Enhancing both the operation and planning of our transportation systems through the application of intelligent transportation systems (ITS)


Freight movement


The historical significance of Illinois as a transportation hub actually exacerbates the freight transportation problems of the region. In Illinois, Class I railroads, interstate highways, waterways and major airport hubs interact with each other in close proximity to major metropolitan areas. Freight trains block level crossings and delay motorists, passenger trains are delayed due to freight train derailments, shippers complain of the delays to freight passing through Chicago, drivers complain that trucks are too long, too heavy and just too dangerous. Congestion in railroad yards, congestion on the highways and congestion at our airports impact each of us. Everything we consume, dispose of or manufacture must move as freight. Chicago is the third busiest port in the world in terms of movement of containers. These containers must often move by both rail and road throughout the region. Rubber-tired trailers are used to expedite the movement of more time sensitive freight from one railroad to another, or from the railroad yard to a customer.


The efficient movement of freight to, from and through Illinois is vital to the economic health of the region, state and nation. As freight movement is a complex public-private partnership, no agency or organization has as its mission to plan for the future. The allocation of transportation planning funds for freight movement is essential as freight movements are projected to increase significantly over the next decade.


Significant planning issues that must be addressed are:

· Identification of bottlenecks including points of conflict between auto and rail, and congestion issues facing passenger and freight transportation sharing common infrastructure

· Development of projects that will enhance competitiveness, improve efficiency and promote environmental stewardship.

· Exploration of innovative technologies.

· Development of innovative financing options.

Jobs and housing imbalance, and job access


Access and mobility issues of socially disadvantaged groups are often-neglected areas of transportation. Data and methodological developments can be used to define the impacts of governmental programs on the behavior of low-income households and also in the ways in which the planning process can be improved to reflect the needs of these groups. Understanding trends and needs related to worker accessibility in the low-income labor market sector provides a foundation for evaluating new transit markets.

Important activities include:

· Evaluating the impact of transit services on low-income groups and the extent to which transit makes a difference in employment opportunities

· Monitoring national and local trends on low-income worker accessibility

· Exploring innovative partnership initiatives that offer a cross-sectoral, holistic approach to accessibility

· Providing assistance to federal, state and local agencies on job access issues

· Exploring decision-making techniques and public participation methods to facilitate cross-sectoral planning.

Renewal of aging infrastructure, and the efficient provision of transportation infrastructure


Every year our roads degrade, our transit lines and structures age, our bridges deteriorate, more operating hours are added to our buses, our inland waterways silt and scour, and locks and dams are ravaged by nature and bumped into by barges.


Asset management is a “systematic process of maintaining, upgrading, and operating physical assets cost-effectively.” Asset management is a strategy for addressing the renewal of our existing aging infrastructure and the efficient provision of transportation infrastructure. It is a strategy for recognizing the inherent value of past investments, while enhancing system condition and performance. Asset management is not a strategy for any one type of asset or any single mode. It is applicable to all modes and all assets.


With constrained resources, personnel constraints, increased accountability and the ever advancing aging process, viewing physical infrastructure assets in a holistic manner ensures proper tradeoffs, recognition of the life-cycle costs of investments, and evaluation of the impact of investments on system performance.


While each transit agency, local government unit, and state agency will implement asset management differently, there are fundamental principles to which all units of government must adhere. Opportunities to share data, information, technology, models, tools and concepts are fundamental to the preservation of our existing infrastructure. Providing resources to support this effort is a smart investment.