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Transportation for Illinois Coalition Calls for New State Capital Infrastructure Bill

As state residents drive less due to high gas prices, Illinois's infrastructure finds itself in a bind.

Wed June 05, 2013 - Midwest Edition
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The Transportation for Illinois Coalition called for a new state capital infrastructure bill at a meeting March 11, that included representatives from municipalities, materials producers and engineers. Jennifer Morrison, managing director, Transportation for Illinois Coalition, said the purchasing power of motor-fuel tax money is dropping with the rate of inflation increasing, people driving less with higher gas prices, and drivers using more fuel-efficient vehicles.

“There are fewer gallons of gas being purchased,” Morrison said. “As those gallons declined, so do the revenues to support the roads. That is going on at the same time construction costs are dramatically increasing.” The transportation coalition estimates that there will be about 5,000 mi. (8,047 km) of roads in need of repair by the 2018 fiscal year.

Revenues from the state’s $31 billion capital program, including fees from video gaming, increased license plate fees and candy taxes, go toward paying off bonds for capital programs. “Once the revenues have been spent, we don’t have any residual revenue increase left to help fund the program,” Morrison said.

Morrison said there is discussion about putting together a new capital program and seeing what revenue is needed for the infrastructure improvements that at the same time is sustainable. However, the state will need to come up with a pension solution before it will be able to come up with a new capital bill, Morrison said.

Jeffrey Young, assistant county engineer for the Division of Transportation, said there needs to be more collaboration between agencies to get projects under way. He gave the example of Route 176 and Walkup Road project and the interchange expansion at Interstate 90 and Route 47 in Huntley. “We know we can’t do it all,” Young said. He said two large future projects for the county is the Randall Road expansion estimated at $76 million, and expansion of River Road and Chapel Hill Road around McHenry, the so-called eastern McHenry bypass, estimated at $38 million.

“Right there, with these two projects, we’re going to need some assistance,” Young said.

According to Young, the county receives $10 million in motor-fuel tax dollars each year, but that goes toward maintenance and resurfacing of roads and bridges, and doesn’t leave any money for capacity improvement, safety improvements or salt purchases. The county does have the ability to levy property taxes and use the RTA sales tax to help pay for road programs, Young said. Young said the key is finding sustainable sources of revenue for road programs.

Bob Miller, the Algonquin Township highway commissioner, said the township receives about $87,000 a year in motor-fuel tax money. “It’s a pathetic number,” Miller said. “We can’t even pave a mile of road. Traditionally, all we’ve been able to do is get member initiative money. ... Now member-initiative money is gone. Now the only way we can fund road projects are tax dollars, which every year we hear, ’Hold the line, don’t increase the levy.’... All we can really do is piece together what we have left.”

Mike Tryon, R-Crystal Lake, said Illinois finances have to change, especially with so much money needed for past bills and pension payments. “It’s trying to keep a hold of what we have for roads,” Tryon said. “Not only does the state of Illinois need to get our arms around our pension [issues], we need to get our arms around our budget in general, and come up with a more strategic approach on how we’re going to fund things in the future.”

Tryon said the state needs to rededicate money toward transportation and make sure there are sources of dedicated revenues for transportation. Tryon said he has voted for liquor taxes, candy taxes, video gaming, and gambling expansion all for bonds to pay for road projects. “I really haven’t met a road project I didn’t like,” Tryon said. “I think it builds a better future for our economy, a better future for our county, a better future for our state.”

Ted Hamilton is a project director of HR Green, an engineering firm for many local municipalities. “One of the biggest challenges we have is finding funding for our projects for our municipal clients,” Hamilton said. “Even if we do find federal or state money, a lot of times they can’t even afford their local share.” Road projects help with economic development and construction companies.

Scott Letzter, aggregate sales manager of Meyer Material, said his company looks forward to bidding on roadway projects. “We have a vested interest in this, and to see a capital program go forward ... is a viable business opportunity,” Letzter said.

Jack Lucchetti is the plant manager of Hanson Material’s Algonquin sand and gravel plant. “My concern is about the sustainability of projects, both present and in the future,” Lucchetti said. “We hope there is funding available, so we can keep everyone working.” The Northwest Herald Staff

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