Concerns aired over state road funding
By Mike Nolan email@example.com April 24, 2013 9:26PM
Updated: May 28, 2013 6:04PM
Although state officials recently outlined a major roads program, funding for basic upkeep of streets and highways continues to decline, posing a “transportation crisis” for the state, according to the Transportation for Illinois Coalition.
The group, whose members primarily represent labor and construction interests, has been holding a series of meetings around the state to discuss the need for more funds for transportation infrastructure.
On Monday, it met in Hazel Crest with local elected officials, business leaders and labor union representatives.
Revenue available to maintain and improve roads is “stagnating and declining,” while construction costs have risen, Jennifer Morrison, managing director of the coalition, told local leaders.
Illinois generates road funding through a gasoline tax of 19 cents a gallon and an annual license plate fee, but the growth in revenue from those sources hasn’t kept up with inflation, according to the coalition.
Less is being collected through the gas tax because gasoline consumption has fallen, partly due to the economy but also because there are more fuel-efficient vehicles on the road, Morrison said.
“We’re letting things fall apart,” Chris King, president of Robinson Engineering, which provides engineering services to several Southland communities, said during the meeting.
He noted that the state’s gasoline tax hasn’t increased since 1993, and with construction costs rising “buying power is greatly diminished.”
Because significant state-funded road construction requires a community to put up matching dollars, King said that poorer, predominantly minority suburbs are losing out.
“We need to do something to give them a fair shot,” he said.
Country Club Hills Mayor Dwight Welch said his city receives $200,000 annually in motor fuel tax revenue from the state, not nearly enough to keep up with basic street repairs.
“We should be dumping a million (dollars) into our streets each year,” Welch said.
David Hinderliter, president and chief executive of the Chicago Southland Chamber of Commerce, one of the sponsors of the transportation summit, said there’s an improved “quality of life” and jobs that come with an updated infrastructure.
Welch said that when it comes to funding major infrastructure projects for the Southland, lawmakers in Springfield have viewed this region “as the poor stepchild to Chicago.”
State Rep. Al Riley (D-Olympia Fields), one of two state legislators at the event, disagreed with that, pointing out that funds for the long-awaited interchange at interstates 57 and 294 “happened because of legislative work.
“I was there,” Riley said. “We got it done.”
Last week, Gov. Pat Quinn and Illinois Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider outlined a $12.6 billion transportation investment plan that allocates tens of millions of dollars for Southland roads.
The multi-year plan, touted as a jobs generator, relies on an expected $7.2 billion in federal funding, which Morrison said is by no means guaranteed.
She said annual funding, the number of projects financed and the number of jobs connected to those projects all drop off in the later years of the state program.
For instance, during Illinois’ current fiscal year, $3.5 billion is allocated for 929 projects providing more than 45,000 construction and related jobs, according to Morrison.
She said that by fiscal 2018, there’s $1.5 billion for 335 projects creating nearly 20,000 jobs statewide.
Schneider will be the guest speaker at the Southland chamber’s next regional luncheon on May 13 in Tinley Park.