By GRACE BARBIC
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – Gov. JB Pritzker recently announced the release of a six-year, $20.7 billion construction plan to improve roads and bridges throughout the state, an annual process which the Illinois Department of Transportation oversees to target infrastructure spending.
The Highway Improvement Program, funded through the Rebuild Illinois capital infrastructure plan passed in 2019, will reconstruct nearly 2,779 more miles of roads and 7.9 million square feet of bridge deck between fiscal year 2022 and 2027, according to the governor’s office.
The projects in the plan will create and support thousands of jobs, “bolstering our pandemic recovery in one more way,” Pritzker said.
“This past year truly has brought home how important transportation systems are in connecting the lives of our residents and our communities, delivering food products to grocery stores, getting essential workers to their jobs and transporting patients to the hospital,” Pritzker said.
The Highway Improvement Program is a part of the larger $45 billion Rebuild Illinois infrastructure plan, which was a bipartisan effort to revitalize local economies that passed in the governor’s first year. The plan invests in roads, bridges, railroads, universities, early childhood centers and state facilities.
The projects outlined in the new multi-year plan will continue to create and support hundreds of thousands of jobs, Pritzker said.
Overall, the Rebuild Illinois capital plan is expected to support around 540,000 thousand jobs over its lifespan. But there are currently no estimates available on how many jobs the specific projects through the Highway Improvement Program will create.
About $33.2 billion was earmarked in the initial release of the capital plan for the transportation sector, with $25.3 billion specifically for roads and bridges. Most of that funding came from an increase to the state’s motor fuel tax, which was indexed for inflation each year, and increases to state licensing fees.
The Illinois Department of Transportation said the plan includes $5.79 billion for highway reconstruction and preservation, $4.82 billion for bridge improvements, $2.59 billion for strategic expansion, $1.43 billion for system support such as engineering and land acquisition, and $1.21 billion for safety and system modernizations.
Acting Illinois Transportation Secretary Omer Osman said the projects outlined in this plan are more than just projects.
“They will be the means for us to ensure our transportation system in Illinois is reliable, safe, and provides economic opportunity for everyone in Illinois – our guiding principle,” Osman said. “We will do so in a way that provides equity, and with a workforce that reflects the diversity in our greatest state, it remains the blueprint for how we rebuild Illinois.”
For the upcoming fiscal year 2022, approximately $3.32 billion has been identified to fund highway improvement projects.
Currently, some of the projects through Rebuild Illinois include a $173 million multi-year investment in Interstate 57, which will continue next year and run in segments through 2027, over $90 million worth of improvements to Interstate 55, and $40 million into Interstate 80 in northeastern Illinois, “making the road smoother and safer amidst the region’s exploding intermodal logistical growth,” Pritzker said.
Pritzker said the multi-year plan will build on progress made over the past two years, noting Rebuild Illinois has already improved over 2,700 miles of state and local roadways and 290 bridges since its 2019 passage.
“In every project we've made hundreds of safety improvements along the way, enhancing right of way accessibility, funding railroad crossing safety improvements and targeting locations tied to crashes, to keep everyone as safe as possible along their travels,” Pritzker said.
While the state’s gas tax is a major contributor to road and bridge projects, it has seen a “significant” reduction in revenue because of decreased consumption as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to IDOT.
IDOT said in its Highway Improvement Program report that the decrease was somewhat offset by the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, one of the federal COVID relief packages passed in 2021, which allocated $353 million to IDOT.
Of the federal COVID-19 relief funds that went to IDOT, $227 million is included in the state highway program, the IDOT report stated. The remaining COVID relief funds will go toward the multi-year program for additional road and bridge projects.
IDOT officials said that while the past year has been a challenge, projects stayed on schedule and they did not have to make any pandemic-related cuts.
Pritzker also announced that Amtrak will resume full passenger rail service starting July 19.
The Chicago-Milwaukee partnership with Wisconsin will resume next week, while the routes connecting Chicago to Quincy, Carbondale and St. Louis will operate at full capacity by the mid-July date.
(Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.)