Cost of the Algonquin Bypass

Now that the election season is (almost) behind us, perhaps we can start thinking about public policy again and not just politics.  Below is a study by Steve Willson on the Algonquin Bypass:

Our Outrageous Roads

In September of 2014, the Algonquin bypass opened with much fanfare.

Golden shovel folks include, from left to right, State Senator Pam Althoff, Congressman Don Manzullo, Algonquin Village President John Schmitt, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, McHenry County Board Chairman Ken Koehler and Illinois Department of Transporation Secretary Ann Schneider.

Golden shovel folks include, from left to right, State Senator Pam Althoff, Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, Algonquin Village President John Schmitt, Congessman Don Manzullo, McHenry County Board Chairman Ken Koehler and an unidentified woman.

The Governor’s office issued a press release touting his “achievement” and the road’s $88.5 million price tag.

The project was promoted by the McHenry County Division of Transportation which paid Civiltech Engineering millions of dollars for a study justifying the project.

Unfortunately, the cost of the road is outrageous.

Engineers measure road costs by the “lane-mile.”

The Algonquin Bypass is a four lane, 1.25 mile road. With the ramps, the whole project is about six lane-miles.

This road cost the taxpayers $14.75 million per lane mile.

Highway costs title

Highway costs are outlined for each state in this publication.

Highway costs are outlined for each state in this publication.

According to a study entitled Highway Construction Costs/How Does Illinois Compare?” published by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute in May, 2014, the average cost per lane-mile to construct a new divided four lane interstate in Illinois is $1.9 million for urban areas.

In other words, this road cost almost eight times the average to construct.

But beyond the construction cost, the value of a road lies in how much it is used.

In 2015, the average daily traffic on the Algonquin Bypass was 12,650 vehicles.

Traffic count for the Algonquin By-pass

Traffic count for the Algonquin By-pass

That’s 4.7 million [6.5 million before correction] vehicles per year.

If you amortize the construction cost, $88.5 million, over twenty years, the annual cost is about $14.5 million.

Divide the annual cost by the number of vehicles, and the cost per vehicle is $1.41.

The cost per mile is $1.13.

Toll 2016 cost per mile

The cost of tolls on the Tollway is six cents per mile in tolls, plus whatever motorists pay in Motor Fuel Taxes.

The Illinois Tollway charges an average of six cents per mile.

In other words, this project costs us, the taxpayers, almost 20 times what it should have for the number of vehicles that use it.

All of these facts were known when the McHenry County Division of Transportation spent millions of our dollars to justify this project to the State.

Sadly, this is not an isolated example.

It is the norm for road building in McHenry County.

Let’s hope that, with the results of the March 15 election, there will be significant changes in how the County Board considers road projects such as the Algonquin/Randall interchange and the proposed Randall Road expansion.


Comments

Cost of the Algonquin Bypass — 27 Comments

  1. What does Jack Franks do?

    Goes after the County Board for pension entitlement.

    WOW!

    Remember when MCDOT led by Anna May Miller tried to turn Alden Rd. into a larger version of Algonquin Rd.?

    When that failed she and her union buddies plus Joe Korpalski went after the project to do the same for Fleming Rd.

    Then they went after the CFI in Algonquin.

    They have been successful in building several roundabouts but the taxpayers are finally get wise to their schemes and I see hope that future roundabouts will be stopped when they are nothing but ‘make work’ projects for people who drive trucks and earth movers!

    Take a look at the money spent last year on Harmony Rd. in the southwest part of the County.

    We have a MCDOT that has in the past been run by Local 150.

    Hopefully this new Board will work even harder than the last Board to put an end to projects which do absolutely nothing to enhance the quality of life in McHenry County but sure do fatten the pocket books of Local 150 at taxpayer expense.

    Before anything else is built – fix what’s broken!!

    Where is the money for non-dedicated roads?

  2. Not to justify the final price tag, the Algonquin bypass is not the run of the mill road, involving carving off a portion of a hill, and it takes up a big area, and it involves bridge work, and there’s the bike path.

    It does feel like too much road for the area, not a lot of cars for all the lanes, for instance taking Algonquin Road east and exiting north on the bypass, two entrance lanes? – it never seems that busy.

    Maybe they were accounting for the nearby gravel pit so put an extra entrance lane so traffic would not get stuck behind a slow moving gravel truck, but the gravel truck should be empty returning to the pit.

  3. The Illinois Economic Policy Institute is sort of the liberal bigger government spending counter to the conservative / libertarian Illinois Policy Institute.

  4. Mark, numbers are numbers.

    What could the IEP’s politics have to do with average cost?

  5. The comment on Illinois Economic Policy Institute was just an observation explaining who they are since they relatively new and not well known.

  6. Alg and LITH elected officials seem to keep getting a pass on responsibility for this project and the potential Randall project.

    Their politics/whining were/are a big part of both projects.
    Rac/Randall a county rd should be turned over to CL, Alg, and LITH and let them maintain and improve that area at their costs.

    They benefit the most, they should fork up the most.

    Anybody seen the tentative rework of old Alg downtown?

    Special!

  7. I have to agree with Mark and call B.S. a bit.

    They had to acquire property that was already occupied, and bulldoze/landscape up a significant grade, displace a creek, and also go over a five lane east/west highway, while also creating an interchange for said highway.

    That’s different from creating a tollway through a cornfield, like I-88.

    You don’t compare the costs of a road in Iowa with the costs of a road in the Rockies, because the landscapes are going to alter the costs dramatically.

    The better thing would be to compare the costs of this to a similar project, where there was significant challenges with the terrain.

    Anything up near Geneva?

    Wisconsin? Colorado?

    If someone built a similar bypass on a hillside with significantly lower “per mile” cost, then the Institute should refer to that.

    And by the way, bypass haters, what would have been a better, more cost effective alternative?

    Bulldoze through the downtown, and widen the old Route 31 north of Algonquin Rd?

    Can you imagine the costs and engineering for that?

    The old Rt 31 through Algonquin was awful and a traffic snarl.

  8. The costs should be measured against reduced travel delay per vehicle.

    Reduced vehicle delay equals more efficient movement of people and goods, which results in less fuel, reduced cost of goods, a cleaner environment, and increased quality of life.

    JT is correct, cost/mile is apples to oranges with this type of improvement.

    The project was successful in moving traffic through the intersection much more efficiently (by increasing green time on IL62 and reducing NB to EB left turns) however the bottleneck has now been moved to the 2-lane section of IL62 through Barrington Hills, which has reduced the overall impact of the improvement.

  9. JT and Jason, you are both partially correct but you need to do more to prove your points.

    JT, you are correct: to determine if the cost of construction was reasonable, one should, in some cases, go beyond just the average.

    But simply stating that fact does not rebut the argument unless you also offer numbers to support your position, and in the case of an $88.5 million, mile and quarter road, you will need LOTS of numbers.

    I showed this road cost EIGHT TIMES THE AVERAGE to construct.

    If it were 1.25 times the average, I would not object.

    If it were 1.5 times the average, I’d begin to wonder.

    But EIGHT TIMES THE AVERAGE?

    You need to show some serious numbers to justify THAT cost.

    They could have built a surface road with a stop light.

    It would have been much cheaper and still have saved substantial trip time and reduced congestion in the old downtown area of Algonquin.

    They didn’t.

    As with too many projects in this County, they over-engineered it and came up with a gold-plated solution.

    Jason, the same argument applies to wait time.

    Yes, wait time is delayed, and this should also be taken into account.

    But, again, simply stating there are other factors to consider does not refute the claim unless you provide numbers showing the savings was worth the cost.

    If the cost per vehicle were 50% above the average, even 100% above the average for the toll way, I probably wouldn’t have written this study.

    But TWENTY TIMES THE AVERAGE?

    There aren’t 100 vehicles a day that would use the Bypass if there were a $1.40 toll.

    They’d wait and take the surface road.

    You can’t just say “wait times need to be considered” when the cost is twenty times the average.

    You need to show some serious numbers to refute a road THAT cost, and one that taxpayers pay, not the users!

    The modus operandi in McHenry County for too many governments and too many projects has been:

    here is a problem, here is the solution, with no explanation of why the “solution” is the BEST answer.

    We see this in million dollar stop lights in McHenry County, and in over-engineered and too expensive projects like the Algonquin Bypass.

    We’re seeing it right now at MCC:

    we need new labs, therefore this $32 million project that has other projects bundled in is the right answer.

    There is no doubt the labs need at MCC need to be renovated.

    But were all the proper questions answered in choosing THIS solution?

    Absolutely not.

    There’s a lot of “build it and they will come” in the justification.

    But the board passed THAT plan, 4-3.

    Taxpayers, watch your wallets!

    The governments in this County need to do a better job examining alternatives, in public, in their meeting, in big bold letters, and making sure ALL the logical questions are answered before wasting taxpayer money.

  10. Look at the union wages being paid here vs other parts of the country, the costs of workman’s compensation in IL for a big part of the extravagant cost.

  11. @ cautious voter….Yeah- that is right-

    We keep forgetting that the taxpayer money abused by the county board is ok-

    look else where….

  12. Steve Wilson,

    Then give us an example where a bypass project, on an uphill grade, is significantly lower in cost per mile.

    Anywhere in the country.

    And tell us what taking out the bridge does to the cost.

    Without being a civil engineer, I could easily tell you that will significantly impact east west traffic, especially in rush hour.

  13. JT, I’ve shown the construction cost is eight times the average.

    I’ve shown the cost per vehicle is twenty times the average.

    I don’t think there’s anyone reading this blog who would disagree that NO ONE would PAY $1.40 per trip to use the bypass.

    And your response is it’s up to ME to prove YOUR COMPLETELY UNSUPPORTED ASSERTION wrong because 800% and 2,000% isn’t enough to convince you.

  14. Steve – the average daily traffic that utilizes the intersection is not 12,650, it’s 46,750 vehicles, or 17 million vehicles per year.

    Both IL31 and Algonquin Road vehicles are impacted by these improvements, not just IL31.

    Removing IL31 traffic from the intersection allows Algonquin Road traffic to proceed through the intersection with much less delay because there is much more green time allocated to them, since traffic on Main Street (old IL 31) is significantly decreased and doesn’t need as much.

    This is why the overpass was needed (like IL31 at US14).

    An at grade intersection with traffic signals would have had more of an impact than the overpass given the land and property impacts necessary to build an intersection that could handle that amount of traffic.

  15. The average daily traffic (ADT) at the intersection prior to construction was actually 57,600 (23,500 + 34,100), or 21M annually.

    The 23,500 ADT counts on Main Street (old IL 31) were taken prior to the improvements.

    12,650 ADT only accounts for the traffic that now travels along IL31, but all traffic that utilize both roads are impacted by the improvements.

    That said, the fact that only about half of the vehicles that were formerly on Main Street (old IL31) have moved to the overpass is likely much less than anticipated, which reduces the overall impact of this improvement.

    I think either the County or the Village has acknowledged this fact.

  16. Steve,

    Jason threw in some good points above.

    This is math and context that you came up with, and I was merely questioning that context.

    For instance…there was a $250 mil construction project out in Nevada for a road that was just 3.5 miles.

    That sounds like a waste…until you hear it’s a bypass for the Hoover dam, and a critical artery.

    And I guess my bigger point was…what was the better, more cost effective solution?

    You’re asserting it was “gold plated” engineering.

    How?

    If they built some a fancy suspension bridge, or started throwing in extras (like Chicago did with Millenium Park) I could see the issue there.

    They spent millions on an engineering firm.

    Would another have been cheaper?

    Did that firm have clout?

    The existing roadway…Rt 31 through downtown, was horrid.

    It would back up both north/south transit and east/west. Something had to be done.

    They spent 40 yrs on that.

    If you’re saying this was 800% more than the average roadway, then show me what we could have done for $11 million compared to $88 mil.

    And don’t get me wrong…the County wanted to build a costly, stupid, economy draining Continuous Flow Interchange. And I’m stunned at how long it took to get shot down. We are in Illinois, after all.

    So we spent too much. OK. How do we do better? What do the new officials do? Otherwise, it is just yelling at the TV screen.

  17. “If you amortize the construction cost, $88.5 million, over twenty years, the annual cost is about $14.5 million.”

    14.5 x 20 = $290 million.

    $85 million becomes $290 million.

    What’s included in the $290 million?

  18. According to a NW Herald article, the total project cost including all engineering, planning, and land acquisition was $70.5M (not $88.5M) and the total length was 2.11 miles (not 1.25 miles).

    The project was mostly funded by the Illinois Jobs Now program through the State, not by County Tax Dollars.

    Now I realize these are ultimately our tax dollars (but mostly gambling revenues), the County secured them for this project rather than the dollars being used elsewhere in the state.

    The corrected project cost, revenue source, project length, and impacted drivers changes the numbers cited in Steve’s article significantly.

  19. JT & Jason: I appreciate that you developed some data. This kind of a dialogue is always good.

    It helps lead to better answers.

    However, I question your numbers.

    I spoke with Pete Harmet of the Illinois Department of Transportation about the numbers before I used them to make sure I was interpreting them correctly.

    First of all, the numbers you are using for the old Route 31, Main Street in Algonquin, are from 2013.

    They haven’t been updated yet.

    So we don’t know how much, if any, relief the Bypass has brought.

    Second, you can’t add the numbers together at the intersection because that is double counting.

    Many of those vehicles are the same.

    You have to take account of the traffic on the each piece of road.

    In fact, if you’re correct, then you have just provided evidence AGAINST the Bypass because it is providing very little relief.

    As for the Bypass traffic, Harmet confirmed that the 12,650 number shown on the map is the 2015 average daily number.

    If you amortize the construction cost, that’s $1.41 per trip, and that doesn’t include the annual maintenance cost.

    Now, we will all agree the traffic formerly on Route 31 through Algonquin was very heavy.

    Citing a need is insufficient.

    You have to show the particular plan for relief is cost effective.

    One must compare cost versus benefit.

    If the Bypass had cost a TRILLION dollars, would you say it was justified? Of course not.

    What if it cost a BILLION dollars?

    Still, no.

    So we agree there is some objective method for determining value.

    With regard to construction cost, one starts with average cost per mile and then adjusts for circumstances.

    Bringing up one outlier example cannot justify THIS road. (The Route 31 Bypass is NOT the Hoover Dam.)

    They could have built a simpler surface road instead of the raised overpass.

    This would have been much cheaper.

    It would have been modestly less effective, but much cheaper.

    And cost versus benefit is the issue here.

    That leads directly to the second point.

    It is insufficient to argue there has been relief.

    First, we don’t know how much yet because we don’t have 2015 numbers for Main Street.

    But, much more important, the objective method for measuring the value of a road (constructed at a reasonable price) is the cost per mile of a vehicle that uses it.

    I will even grant that the relief of the other road adds value.

    But can you really show that the value is $1.13 per mile versus 6 cents per mile for the toll way?

    Do you think ANY vehicle would use the Bypass if it were a toll road at $1.40 instead of being paid for by the Illinois taxpayers?

    If the answers to these questions are, “No”, then the cost of the project is not justified.

    So, while I appreciate your responses, and it’s clear you’ve done some homework, I think you are avoiding the key issues.

    With regard to construction cost, I have already conceded that I would not have objected if the cost were 25% or 50% or perhaps even 100% higher than the average.

    What you need to do is, instead of talking in generalities and citing outlier examples (again, the Bypass is NOT the Hoover Dam), show why THIS piece of road should have cost EIGHT TIMES the average and why we could NOT have gotten by with a less expensive alternative, especially for how little the Bypass is used.

    With regard to cost per trip, I have conceded that I would not have raised my objections if the cost per vehicle mile were even twice the average of the Illinois Tollway.

    But the cost per vehicle mile is almost 20 TIMES THE AVERAGE.

    So it is incumbent upon you first to show why cost per vehicle-mile is the wrong measure, second what an alternative would be, with explanation and justification, and third the numbers that prove your contention, that the Bypass represents good value.

  20. Mark: to determine the annual cost of a project, take the construction cost and amortize it over the life of the project at a reasonable discount rate. \\

    In this case I used 20 years (generous for the average life of a road without substantial rebuilding) and 4% (long-term municipal interest rates at the time of construction).

    It’s a lot like doing a mortgage calculation.

    If you borrow to buy a house, you make a monthly payment.

    If you pay cash, you could have put the money to other use.

    In either case, a monthly (or annual) amortization can be calculated.

    Jason:
    as for the cost, I refer to government documents, not the Northwest Herald.

    The Governor’s office quotes the price as $88.5 million.

    I included a copy of the letter in the article I sent to Cal.

    As for the distance, you can drive the Bypass yourself.

    I have.

    It’s about a mile and a quarter.

    JT:
    I appreciate your comment about how we fix the problem.

    We started on March 15.

    The County Division of Transportation sees itself in the business of building roads.

    The Transportation Committee saw itself the same way.

    When board members asked questions, they were not answered.

    It is to be hoped that a new board majority will demand that better explanations be given to board members.

    It is the job of the staff to provide clear, unbiased and sufficient information to board members to make decisions, not to shill for what they want.

    It’s common but unacceptable practice.

    It is my hope that the new board majority will not change the way they consider projects.

  21. Steve – your total cost may be correct, I don’t know, but our numbers are relatively close anyway.

    Regarding traffic and project length however I stand by my numbers.

    The project length includes improvements to the surrounding roads, not just IL31.

    You have to look at this as an intersection improvement project, not an overpass project.

    Intersection congestion is what drove the project.

    Regarding traffic, you do have to count traffic on both Algonquin and IL31.

    And no I’m not double counting when I add the two together because ADT at an intersection is generated by four different directions of travel.

    ADT on one road represents traffic in both directions, some originating from each leg of the intersection.

    Adding the two intersecting streets gives you total intersection ADT.

    You are correct the traffic data is from 2013, prior to the improvements, but this was the traffic that was the basis for design. The numbers indicate that about half of the traffic from old 31 has been moved to the bypass.

    We agree that the overpass is underutilized, however you can’t discount the impact to the local drivers still using Main Street, and the drivers on Algonquin Road that are now experiencing much less delay.

  22. Jason, if you drive south on Route 31 and turn east at Route 62, you will be counted twice.

    But let’s accept your logic.

    If we add ALL the numbers from all four directions, east and west on 62 and north and south on 31, then we get 115,600 vehicles per day.

    The Bypass is handling 12,650 per day, or just 11% of the traffic.

    As for the distance, the proper distance is the net gain: around 1.1 to 1.2 miles.

    It’s a similar calculation for a building.

    Suppose you put a 100 square foot addition on your house. Your contractor says,

    “Well, where you want to put it will require that we move the plumbing and electrical. The subsurface is also bad, so we’ll need to excavate deeper than usual and back fill. The addition itself will only cost $10,000 or $100 per square foot. But the total bill will be $80,000. However, don’t count that other $70,000 in the total.”

  23. No you wouldn’t be counted twice because intersection traffic counts only account for inbound traffic to an intersection, not outbound.

    57,600 vehicles per day are impacted by the improvement.

    You’re arguing that the net improvement is only that we are left with a 1.2 mile new road.

    I’m arguing that we’re left with a grade separated intersection that has eliminated travel delay for IL31 traffic and also drastically reduced travel delay for Algonquin Road and Main Street traffic.

    We agree the overpass is underutilized.

    And I see your point that it was an expensive project, but the alternative was status quo, taking 15 minutes to get through the intersection during peak times, or level the buildings in the downtown to build an at grade intersection at a higher cost.

    I agree the project impact is less than it should be, because of its underutilization and the chokepoint on IL62 through Barrington Hills, but it has reduced travel delay, and that benefit is a more complicated calculation than cost/mile.

    Thanks for the lively debate, I’m signing off now.

  24. I see now, the 4% would apply if cash or bonds were used to finance the project.

    The useful life of some of the project extends beyond 20 years though, such as site acquisition costs, grading, shave off part of the hill, the foundation / bottom layer of the road, etc.

    So adjustments can be made which would result in a lesser annual amortized cost, not to say such adjustments would result in a cost inline with averages.

    Next there may exist averages for bridge work, maybe even challenging terrain / hill work, and once again, not saying that would bring the cost to industry averages.

    Next there is a whole host of reforms needed to bring down construction costs in Illinois, some in the Rauner Illinois Turnaround and Turnaround agenda.

    There might be someone in the state, county, or a think tank to discuss various parts of that.

    Or I guess one could say, no time for that, lets put in a fudge factor of 25% or 50%, still an expensive project.

    So how does one reform the high costs.

    Would need some reforms and a watchdog.

    Lots of people, probably not most, know union construction costs in Illinois are in many cases too high, and no unions are not entirely to blame for that.

  25. Wow ….. Althoff doing a modicum of work!

    I can’t believe my eyes!

  26. To reign in costs one place to start is to research, document, and report on the bonds, because the relatively easy access to capital by issuing bonds is one reason for the high costs.

    One could post all the documents for the project on a watchdog website.

    But that takes time.

    And there is no income derived from doing so.

    Right now the unions get the union dues, or, in Illinois since we are not a Right to Work state, those that do no want to join the union are forced to pay agency fees to the union.

    Agency fees are mandated fees as a condition of employment.

    The unions market agency fees as fair share fees.

    Taxpayer watchdogs get no fees.

    Those profiting from the government get all the money from the government.

    Those watching the government get no money from the government.

    That is not a level playing field.

    What if a small percentage of a public sector budget went to a taxpayer watchdog fund which would go to non profit watchdog groups.

    Well that would have to be carefully designed and even then the special interests would try to influence elections or appointments, or get on the board, or gain employment in the watchdog groupr, so maybe it would not work.

    But the point is made.

    The watchdogs are not as well financed and outnumbered.

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