clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Chicago has $2.7B shortage of infrastructure dollars, aldermen told

Budget Director Susie Park and other city officials outlined the magnitude of the capital funding shortage for the City Council’s Committee on Capital and Economic Development on Tuesday.

Chicago needs billions more dollars than have been allocated so far to properly maintain city streets, bridges, buildings and vehicles, aldermen were told Tuesday.
Chicago needs billions more dollars than have been allocated so far to properly maintain city streets, bridges, buildings and vehicles, aldermen were told Tuesday.
Sun-Times file

Chicago needs $4.4 billion over the next five years to put its streets, bridges, buildings and vehicles on a maintenance-and-replacement cycle, but has funding for only $1.7 billion, aldermen were told Tuesday.

During a virtual meeting of the City Council’s Committee on Capital and Economic Development, Budget Director Susie Park joined her counterparts overseeing three infrastructure departments in outlining the magnitude of the capital funding shortage.

Asset and Information Services Commissioner David Reynolds said the city has 375 “core facilities,” 145 of them public safety buildings, with 15.6 million square feet of space.

One-third of that “aging portfolio” of buildings is “75 years old or older.” Twenty-eight of those buildings are more than a century old. The oldest is more than 140 years old.

“Of the 375 core facilities, 265 really need substantial renovation or equipment replacements immediately. This ranges from new heating, ventilation and air-conditioning to windows, tuck-pointing, roofs, all the way down to carpets and finishes,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds pegged the cost of getting into a “replacement cycle” — defined as “replacing things before they break” — at $210 million a year. In each of the last five years, he’s had $35 million to spend from bond proceeds and tax-increment-financing.

“Because of that, we often just focus on the very basics. Things like dry, safe and warm. That seems like a pretty low bar. But in order to spread the limited capital we have across all of the facilities, those are our criteria.”

The story is pretty much the same for the city’s fleet of 6,500 vehicles, including 3,000 police vehicles, 668 fire engines, trucks, ambulances and SUV’s and 1,600 Streets and Sanitation vehicles.

The city needs to spend $95 million a year to get the fleet on a normal replacement cycle. But it has spent only $35 million in each of the last five years.

Transportation Commissioner Gia Biagi said the city is “doing pretty well” on resurfacing Chicago’s 1,000 miles of arterial streets. Only 5% are in the “high-need” category.

But when it comes to resurfacing the city’s 3,000 miles of residential streets?

“That’s an area where we do need to catch up,” Biagi said.

“We have probably about 18 or 20% of our streets that fall into a high-need category where we need to get to that work. So accelerating some funding and the prospect of having an annual funding source for those kinds of improvements would make a big difference.”

Biagi described bridges, viaducts and underpasses as the area of greatest need. Chicago has more than 300 bridges. At least 40 are “bascule” bridges with an average age of 83.

Chicago has dozens of “bascule” bridges that can be raised to allow boats to pass. They have an average age of 83 years.
Chicago has dozens of “bascule” bridges, like this one at LaSalle Street, that can be raised to allow boats to pass. They have an average age of 83 years.
Sun-Times file

“We have a lot of backlog when it comes to bridges and viaducts. It’s probably our most under-funded category. And it’s the kind of thing that needs long-term planning to really chip away at … bringing those bridges up to par and getting them to last for another 100 years,” Biagi said.

“Rehabilitation of a bridge on average is about $40 million. And that’s a rehab. We try to keep all of the parts. That gives you a sense of the magnitude there.”

Three months ago, the City Council authorized a bare-bones, $100 million capital plan — bankrolled by an existing line of credit — with the promise of a larger general obligation bond issue later this year.

At the time, Chief Financial Officer Jennie Huang Bennett pledged to work with aldermen to devise a long-term capital plan to ensure “equity of investments” across the city after a “needs-based” infrastructure assessment.

Over the years, projects have landed on the city’s list of capital plans simply because they were the mayor’s favorites. That won’t be the case going forward, Park said Tuesday.

“We’re looking to develop a multi-year, needs-based capital plan that prioritizes safety, equity and project continuity to maximize investments and improve efficiencies,” Park said.

“We would also like to leverage our capital improvements to spur economic development and job creation across the city. … We are trying to create a transparent process that encourages stakeholder and community input on our capital needs and priorities. And lastly, we are promoting financial responsibility by working toward maintenance of assets in good repair while driving down operational costs.”