A Publication of WTVP

The dictionary definition of “enhance” is “to make greater, as in beauty or value.” In other words, to enhance something means to make it more useful, more valuable, or more attractive—to generally improve it. A new version of an old program is now underway through the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) to do just that to transportation facilities throughout Illinois.

The Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program (ITEP) has a primary goal of providing enhancement funds to municipalities, park districts, and other public agencies in Illinois. The program was started in the early 1990s under the original ISTEA program and was updated in 1998 as the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21). The program sets aside 10 percent of a state’s transportation funds for projects that enhance the state’s transportation system. Although the federal highway bill hasn’t yet been approved this year, Congress recently passed a resolution to ensure continuation of the enhancement program for 2005. This led to the current ITEP program, calling for projects to be submitted by August 1, with project selection scheduled for late fall.

Within the original law, states have flexibility to create a program that meets its own enhancement needs. Illinois has developed the ITEP program to provide funding assistance to local agencies in 12 basic types of projects: bikeways and pedestrian systems, scenic or historic highways, landscaping and beautification, historic preservation, rehabilitation of historic transportation structures, safety and education programs for bicyclists and pedestrians, acquisition of scenic easements, preservation of abandoned rail corridors for conversion to bikeways or pedestrian paths, control and removal of outdoor advertising, establishment of transportation museums, environmental mitigation of water pollution by highway runoff or wildlife preservation related to habitat, and archeological planning and research.

Within these 12 categories, local taxing bodies can propose various projects, which, if selected by IDOT, receive 80 percent of the project funding through the ITEP program. In the past, the enhancement program has provided funding for several regional projects in central Illinois. The RiverFront Park in East Peoria, the Pekin Bikeway project, and the Morton Bike Trail project owe their initial project funding to the earlier enhancement programs. This round of the program, similar to earlier versions, likely will be very competitive, as local agencies and communities vie for project funding.

One of the key elements of the program is that these are all locally originated projects; they aren’t initially programmed or planned by IDOT. In these projects, IDOT assists in funding and managing a local project deemed important by the local agency and its constituents—not the state. These projects are designed to enhance the transportation experience in communities and improve the quality of life for their residents. In this way, they meet the definition of enhancement noted above. Many people throughout the state don’t realize facilities they use every day were funded, in part, by this valuable program and that these facilities really do enhance the quality of their life. IBI