A Publication of WTVP

Six-and-a-half years of an over-spending government. Six-and-a-half years of using road funds to pay for out-of-control growth in programs not even related to transportation. Ten years without a capital infrastructure improvement plan. They have all taken their toll. Once considered among the best in the nation, Illinois’ transportation systems are showing their age.

One of the responsibilities of state government is to take care of our infrastructure. If you have a leak in your roof and you don’t repair it, before long, you have to replace the whole roof instead of a few shingles. We are at that stage right now with our infrastructure. If we do not move forward—and quickly—we will pay a much higher price in the future.

We all know that transportation is vital in keeping Illinois attractive to business and industry. Major highways crisscross our state from all directions. Thousands of miles of rail provide a means to ship freight. O’Hare International Airport provides access to the world. Mighty rivers and seemingly boundless lakes flank our state, making river transportation yet another attractive option.

According to a recent study by Southern Illinois University, a comprehensive capital plan would create 535,000 new, full-time jobs, which would lead to $49 billion in economic activity and generate more than $2.9 billion in state and local tax revenues.

Illinois has the third-largest interstate highway network, and Chicago serves as the nation’s rail hub. The Chicago region is also the third-busiest container-moving port in the world, behind only Hong Kong and Singapore. Additionally, Illinois ranks seventh in U.S. waterborne traffic, handling more than 114 million tons of cargo annually, and its airport system is the second largest in the nation. Public transit systems in Illinois handle nearly 600 million riders a year.

One of the most important challenges facing Illinois is our crumbling transportation infrastructure. The Department of Transportation’s six-year, pay-as-you-go program is very important, helping to maintain hundreds of miles of roads and bridges across the state. It also provides the funding needed to repair and upgrade rail crossings and make needed safety improvements to our local and regional airports.

However, there are ever-growing transportation needs the state must meet for future economic growth, and that’s why we must continue to push for a comprehensive, statewide capital construction program.

Much of the blame for the failure to pass a capital plan in recent years goes to former Governor Rod Blagojevich. While the ex-governor stated he wanted a capital program, he could not provide the leadership to get it done. He did very little to inspire our trust over the years, and we were never sure that he would actually spend the money on the projects as stated in the legislation.

We got close last year—a $34 billion plan negotiated by former U.S. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert and former Congressman and current Southern Illinois University President Glenn Poshard. Unfortunately, the proposal did not pass the legislature.

A looming budget shortfall, which some officials now say could reach $11.5 billion, is sure to dominate our legislative efforts for the 96th General Assembly. Good ideas and good programs will be proposed this spring, but they will inevitably have a price tag that only adds to the multi-billion-dollar deficit. We need to take a hard look at our priorities.

Many of our financial woes are due to a decrease in state employment and a corresponding increase in people needing state services. Our solutions must focus on job growth. A capital plan is about jobs and about public safety and maintaining our transportation system, which is vitally important to the economic viability of Illinois.

Key to our success is a spirit of cooperation and striving for the common good. The governor and lawmakers must work together to find solutions to the issues facing us all. iBi