Make Infrastructure a Priority in Illinois

Infrastructure isn’t sexy. Roads and highways, trains and buses; these are not topics known to elicit a lot of excitement. National Infrastructure Week, May 14- 21, isn’t time you set aside for backyard bbq’s and family camping trips. It can pass unnoticed, as can our regional infrastructure needs.  Until, that is, something goes wrong. We have all seen tragic pictures of falling bridges or transit accidents. We all shudder and think to ourselves “how can this be prevented?”  The answer is investment. Investment in safety measures. Investment in modernization. Finding long term sustainable and reliable funding sources.

Earlier this month, the Illinois Economic Policy Institute  released Passing the Buck: An Assessment of Capital Funding Needs in Illinois.   Our last bill, Illinois Jobs Now! will celebrate its tenth birthday this year and has lost much of its luster. They grow up so fast! The Institute’s report says the Illinois Department of Transportation needs an additional $11 billion—with a “B”—through the year 2023 to bring all road miles into an acceptable condition and repair all backlog bridges. These are roads and bridges all of us, and our loved ones, use every day.

The Regional Transportation Authority recently issued a Regional Transit Strategic Plan, Invest in Transit, that makes the case for reliable, sustainable funding for public transportation in our region. It lays out a funding need of $30 billion in priority capital projects over the next decade to assure our system continues to provide the service hundreds of millions riders depend on each year.  We’re not even investing half of what we should and, nearly a third of our buses and trains are beyond their useful life.

As the chairman of the RTA board, I am concerned about transit in Northeastern Illinois.  But, as a former state legislator who served many years in Springfield, I know that what’s good for the RTA region is good for the whole state.  Sixty five percent of the nearly 13 million people who live in Illinois, live in the RTA region. Incredibly, about 1/6th of the Illinois population rides the RTA system each workday.  A healthy Northeastern Illinois economy is good for our whole state.

Our state hasn’t raised the gas tax for nearly 30 years. Can you imagine that cost of anything not going up for decades? Here in Illinois we can and we’re paying for it!  Indiana raised its gas tax by a dime to 28 cents a gallon last summer, when gas prices traditionally go up anyway, to fund infrastructure improvement.   Iowa raised its gas tax, too.  Our gas tax has been 19 cents a gallon since the 1990’s. If it were indexed to inflation, it’d be more than 30 cents a gallon today.   Illinois is supposed to be the nation’s infrastructure leader but sadly we rate among the bottom five states in what our gas tax provides for infrastructure.

We all see the constant media stories about people leaving this region.  Transit brings them here. We must have world class infrastructure our residents, and employers, expect. Let’s tell our legislators to pass an infrastructure bill soon, and make sustainable, long term funding for transit a priority.  Let’s do so before the last bill turns 11; the pre-teen years can be very difficult!

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