Illinois’ transportation systems have traditionally been considered among the best in the nation. They are an important factor in making our centrally located state attractive to business and industry. Major highways crisscross Illinois from all directions. Thousands of miles of rail provide a means to ship freight. O’Hare International Airport provides access to the world. The major rivers and lakes that flank our state make river transportation yet another option.
Having worked with the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) for 35 years—retiring as a district engineer—my expertise and interest has naturally been with our road system. It is a daunting and expensive task to maintain and repair the thousands and thousands of miles of roads in Illinois, much less build the new roads needed to ease the choking congestion in our urban areas.
What is troubling is that efforts to repair and resurface Illinois roads are being stymied by Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s abuse of the state’s road funds. In just six years, this governor has nearly doubled—from $2.2 billion to $4.2 billion—the amount of funding diverted from its intended use, the care and construction of our roads.
Our roads are crumbling, IDOT needs more funding just to get through the year, and we are working to put together a much-needed capital improvement program for Illinois. Yet the Administration continues to treat the state’s road funds as its own personal piggybank. Sorry, Governor, you can’t have it both ways. You must stop robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Historically, about $370 million has been diverted each year from various road funds for the operating expenses of state agencies that deal with roads, such as the Secretary of State, Illinois State Police or even the Department of Revenue for administering motor fuel tax funds. However, the Blagojevich Administration has ramped up those diversions and used the funds to pay the state’s general operating expenses—not related in any manner to roads or transportation systems.
To put this in perspective, the state’s estimated road repair backlog at the end of the current fiscal year is estimated to be 2,689 miles. The Governor’s increased diversions from his six years in office—a little less than $2 billion—would allow IDOT to resurface 5,756 miles of two-lane highway, or 938 miles of interstate highway.
Adding to IDOT’s current budgetary problems is the difficult winter that just passed. IDOT says the average cost associated with winter operations is $40 million per year, but in Fiscal Year 2008, the cost was approximately $85 million. IDOT has absorbed more than half of the remaining costs within its existing budget, but needs additional money to get through the fiscal year. Without it, they will have to suspend many of their normal operations.
Several of my Senate Republican colleagues and I are working to pass legislation that will provide IDOT with $20 million to cover the weather-related cost overruns. The money is currently available in state road funds; however, IDOT does not have the appropriation authority to access those funds.
Unfortunately, the Governor and his allies in the Senate have tried to tie the supplemental IDOT funding to his demand to expand health insurance without legislative approval, and to his raids on dedicated funds that he pushed through the Senate on April 3rd. It is clear that this legislation will not be called in the House, so IDOT is left hanging.
Our state’s transportation system should not be subject to such political gamesmanship. As one of my colleagues put it, every time you hit a pothole, think about the inappropriate and arrogant manner in which our governor is misusing our road funds.
If you agree, please call your State Senator, your State Representative, or the Governor and tell them to stop playing games with our roads. Their contact information is available on the Illinois General Assembly’s web page, ilga.gov. The Governor’s website lists his contact information as follows:
Office of the Governor
207 State House
Springfield, IL 62706
217-782-0244 or 312-814-2121
TTY: 888-261-3336. IBI