Emanuel Fills In the Details on Massive Chicago Infrastructure Plan

Today, Mayor Rahm Emanuel will sketch out a fuller picture of the ambitious $7 billion public-private plan to upgrade Chicago's transit, schools, and parks, reports John Schwartz.
March 29, 2012, 11am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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In a speech to be delivered today at the Chicagoland Laborers' Training and Apprentice Center, which The New York Times received an advanced copy of, Emanuel will outline the financing for the plan to expand the city's largest airport and improve its streets, water system, schools, community colleges, parks and commuter rail network.

The "audacious" plan represents a movement by states and cities across the country to take it upon themselves, often with public-private partnerships, to upgrade aging infrastructure without waiting for financing from a gridlocked federal government, notes Schwartz.

According to Robert Puentes, director of the metropolitan infrastructure initiative at the Brookings Institution, "There is tremendous interest in doing something different - people aren't waiting for the federal government to raise the gasoline tax or pass the carbon tax and have money raining down."

The plan will be partially funded by the newly created Chicago Infrastructure Trust, announced earlier this month. "Other funds will come from cost cutting, some from the savings in energy and water use from retrofitting buildings, and some from user fees, but 'none of these funds will come from an increase in property or sales taxes,' according to the speech."

While Chicago's history of corruption causes natural skepticism around major public initiatives, locals seem willing to give Emanuel the benefit of the doubt, at this point.

"'It's totally within reason for Chicagoans to be skeptical,' said Celeste Meiffren, field director for Illinois PIRG, an advocacy organization. 'That being said, it does seem that a lot of these projects are pretty worthwhile. If the mayor provides a lot of information to us as residents and taxpayers, gives us an opportunity to weigh in on these projects and involves our aldermen too - and makes sure we receive a fair value - it'll address a lot of the concerns we have here.'"

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Published on Thursday, March 29, 2012 in The New York Times
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