The inflation of estimates and ambition over just six years is staggering. According to the 2003 plan, "The total cost of transportation improvements over 20 years will be between $2.25 and $3.5 billion in capital in investment." In the 2009 revision, that figure is now over $13 billion.
The 2003 plan correctly predicted - who knew? - that the huge Central Loop TIF would actually be allowed to expire, and didn't see much future in TIF financing:
Fourteen other TIF districts exist within the boundaries of the Central Area. Of these, four - Chicago/Kingsbury, River West, Near South, and Canal/Congress - are structured to permit funding of transportation. But the amount of increment generated within these districts is limited, so they would not be major sources of revenue.Flash forward to 2009, and the CAAP folks, like Paul on the road to Damascus, have undergone a revelation:
Tax Increment Financing could serve as a source of funding for capital projects within the Central Area. Although it might not cover all of the City’s local share of costs, TIF can provide a source of funding for initial activities, such as preliminary engineering or site preparation.The revised CAAP marks the final transformation of TIF's from a vehicle for helping re-invigorate depressed urban districts to a gigantic, largely unaccountable slush-fund-in-perpetuity for financing money pit boondoggles like the proposed $3 billion Clinton Street subway and a $2 billion West Loop Transportation Center that would burrow commuters like moles up to four levels below the street. Of questionable value and utility, they threaten to become Chicago's version of Boston's Big Dig, which went from initial estimates of $2.8 billion and wound up at $14.6 billion and counting. And if you think I'm being alarmist, remember this is the city of the transit "superstation" under Block 37, where, as cost overruns hit $100 million, the CTA chose simply to write off the quarter billion spent to date and walk away, leaving behind a project that was half-finished and unusable. Other parts of the new CAAP seem nothing less than hallucinatory, such as a proposed subway running under Monroe street from The Loop to Union and Ogilvie stations that the CAAP actually thinks can be done for $200 million.
The established TIF districts will remain essential to funding the recommendations of the CAAP. They should be protected, expanded, and aggressively used in a coordinated way to ensure a secure funding framework. (emphasis mine)
A useful statutory feature of TIF districts is the ability to share revenues among contiguous districts, to accommodate large-scale projects that may exceed a given year’s incremental revenue collection or that may span multiple districts. Of the nineteen TIF districts located in the Central Area, sixteen districts are contiguous. The sum of total budgets for the Central Area TIF districts over their twenty three year life spans is $3.2 billion."
The CAAP recommends focusing TIF spending on major public works projects.
There are, however, a lot of great things in the plan, which I hope to discuss in much more detail in the not too distant future, and some of them are very reasonably priced. Two projects I discussed last week - the re-greening of Congress Street as a "Signature Parkway" and the reopening of Queen's Landing - get major play in the CAAP. Without resorting to one of Bob O'Neill's pricey gossamer bridges, "Pedestrian mobility between Buckingham Fountain and the Lake will be restored. An at-grade street crossing is preferred." Estimated cost: $500,000.
For residents of River North and the Fulton River District, the plan will be presented at a community meeting put on by 42nd ward alderman Brendan Reilly, tonight, Thursday, April 2nd, from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Erie Cafe, 536 West Erie.
For the rest of us, you can view the original 2003 plan on the City of Chicago's website here, and courtesy of David Roeder and Fran Spielman and the Chicago Sun-Times, you can download this year's revision here. Compare and discuss.