A billion-dollar pothole for Illinois roadwork

15 Oct 2012 1:15 PM | Beth Doria (Administrator)
Warning: Potholes ahead.

With federal and state funding on the decline, Illinois is spending about 40 percent less on road projects this fiscal year, a cutback of more than $1 billion from the $2.9 billion spent in the year ended in June.

That's bulldozing jobs and forcing construction firms and their suppliers to slash overhead, stop buying new equipment and compete fiercely for remaining contracts.

It's also sparking talk of the need for a new, multibillion-dollar borrowing program—and possibly an increase in the gasoline tax—for road projects and other construction as the state's last $31 billion capital-improvement program, enacted in 2009, runs out of borrowing authority.

“We are facing a bleak future if nothing changes,” says Linda Wheeler, a budget expert at the Transportation for Illinois Coalition, a Springfield-based labor-management group that lobbies on transportation funding issues. “We are looking for the existing system to basically go to hell.”

With spending projected to drop further in years ahead, the state's backlog of road repairs will nearly double within six years, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation. Only 68 percent of state roads will be rated “acceptable” by 2018, down from 88 percent now.

The impact will be huge for Illinois, a national transportation hub, and its 16,000-mile network of state-funded roads, which carry more than half the state's traffic. While bad roads create delays and raise the costs of driving and moving freight, the cutbacks also mean that deferred maintenance will only increase the cost of making those repairs eventually.

“We've got a multibillion-dollar infrastructure, and you've got to maintain it and modernize it, and that costs money,” says Doug Whitley, president and CEO of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce. “Infrastructure investment is really the cornerstone of our whole damn economy.”


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