A Publication of WTVP

The worst roads in America! Several weeks ago, I was browsing the latest Parade magazine and came across an article about the state of our nation’s highways. An accompanying sidebar referred to a survey of 7,500 truckers who were asked about the “toughest stretches of highway in America.” The third item on their list: “I-55, I-57, I-80 and I-90 in Illinois. The pavement’s all broken. Some stretches are just horrible.”

Of the seven items listed, Illinois was the only state to warrant a mention of more than a single highway—except for Michigan, which had the dubious distinction of having “All roads in Michigan” listed.

In the last few years, transportation infrastructure issues have clawed their way up the list of national priorities. The bridge collapse in Minnesota in August 2007 was certainly a wake-up call. Ordinarily, most of us don’t pay a lot of attention to infrastructure, but when it fails catastrophically, we sure take notice!

Last summer, gas prices soared to record levels, and for the first time, American consumers began to change their habits—driving fewer miles, using more public transportation, increased sales of hybrids and attention to electric cars. Since then, while gas prices have receded, the economic picture for domestic automakers has grown darker. Nearly everyone sees electric vehicles (EVs) of some sort as a panacea for the retooling of the auto industry.

Any move toward EVs will require a more efficient way of storing energy—hence, you are hearing a lot about batteries. Central Illinois is proud of the advances in battery technology made by our own Firefly Energy—and we hope that the company can play a part in reshaping the future. See our interview with Firefly co-founder Mil Ovan on page 80.

There’s a lot going on in central Illinois when it comes to transportation. A feasibility study is on the way regarding the potential return of Amtrak service to Peoria. (As I write this, the release of the study has been delayed, possibly until July.) The Peoria International Airport connected a record number of passengers to the world in 2008. CityLink bus ridership is up 25 to 30 percent over last year. And let’s not forget barge traffic on the Illinois River. Our central location, easily accessible via air, rail, barge or truck, is a major competitive advantage for the region.

When we planned this issue, we had no clue that our own former Congressman Ray LaHood would lead the U.S. Department of Transportation in the new administration. Congratulations, Mr. Secretary! (See page 66.) And, as he takes over the reins of the 18th District, Congressman Aaron Schock will sit on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the House. A new governor gives us hope that more than lip service will be paid to a state capital plan—but then we must figure out how to pay for it!

None of this happens in a vacuum. Solutions to critical transportation and infrastructure problems are directly linked to our energy future and capacity for entrepreneurial innovation, and tied to the limits of our state and federal budgets. With the stimulus bill out the door, a reauthorization of the five-year transportation bill on deck in Congress, and a closer look at a capital plan in Illinois, 2009 will prove to be a watershed year for transportation, both in the state and across the nation. iBi