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Coalition: State's transportation infrastructure in desperate need of funding

Published: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 11:02 a.m. CDT

(MCT) DECATUR — The lack of much-needed funding to maintain transportation infrastructure is putting a burden on cities, counties and businesses throughout the state, including the Decatur area.

Representatives with the Transportation for Illinois Coalition met Monday with members of the Greater Decatur Chamber of Commerce to discuss what is seen as a worsening disparity, especially in terms of roadways.

“If we lose efficiency, Illinois becomes less marketable and competitive,” said Jennifer Morrison, a member of the coalition. “All of our systems are reaching the end of their useful life.”

People are buying fewer gallons of gasoline than they have previously, which lowers the amount of money generated from motor fuel taxes, Morrison said. At the same time, the

cost of road construction has doubled, she said.

“That is not a sustainable dynamic,” Morrison said.

With declining funding, the Illinois Department of Transportation is focusing on resurfacing and maintenance of roadways and bridges that are in need of repairs, said Greg Jamerson, who works in the department’s Effingham office. Expansion projects aren’t taking place as a result, he said.

“It’s getting harder to maintain what we’ve got,” Jamerson said. “We’re doing what we can, but funding keeps decreasing. Everybody is fighting for every dollar they can get.”

As state funding evaporates, local governments are left to pick up the burden without the revenue they need.

The city of Decatur is spending $2 million less on roads than in 2008, City Manager Ryan McCrady said. The city has not grown geographically, but McCrady said revenue is going down.

McCrady said city officials try to work in cooperation with other agencies, including the Illinois Department of Transportation.

“We all need money to get work done,” he said.

The city wants to embark on major projects, including improvements on Brush College Road and the Wood Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive intersection, McCrady said.

Macon County needs money for projects, including a bypass east of Decatur, county board Chairman Jay Dunn said. Starting that project would help with work that needs to get done on other county roads, he said.

“We don’t have the money to start it,” Dunn said.

Even maintaining the infrastructure that is in place is an increasing challenge without securing sources of funding, Dunn said. Nearly 30 bridges are in danger of closing in the county, with six bridges already closed and no money to take care of them, he said.

Local governments don’t have the revenue needed to meet demands for transportation, said Craig Fink of the DeWitt County Highway Department. The funding mechanisms from the state aren’t working, he said.

“It’s not equitable, and it’s not sustainable,” Fink said. “We know the labor is out there. We just don’t have the money. We’re not investing in transportation like we used to.”

Work continues to expand U.S. 51 south of Decatur. The bypass around Assumption is about half complete, with construction on a four-mile stretch to the south about to begin, Jamerson said. After that, plans still need to be developed and implemented for a bypass around Pana, along with expanding the road from Pana to Centralia, he said.

In Decatur, the latest projects include improvements to the Pershing and 22nd Street intersections, modernization of traffic signals along East U.S. 36 and improving its intersection with Country Club Road, Jamerson said. The replacement of the U.S. 51 bridges at the Lake Decatur dam is likely to be considered in the department’s next project cycle, he said.

Any work done to improve transportation has an effect on the local economy. Businesses such as Dunn Co. are able to turn money over in the economy, said David Tyrolt, president and CEO of the Decatur-based road paving, milling and stabilization business.

Money is needed for projects in downstate Illinois, he said.

“Consistent funding is needed at the state level,” Tyrolt said. “Capital spending is better than not funding at all. It’s a measure that works for a short time, but then the dollars dwindle.”

Transportation projects provide benefits as more people are put to work, said Sean Stott with Midwest Laborers’ International.

“The workers take the money they earn and invest back into your community,” he said.

Morrison said the state’s capital spending program was last updated in 2009 and is reaching the end of its funding cycle. She said the group plans to hold 22 similar meetings throughout the state.

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©2013 the Herald & Review (Decatur, Ill.)

Visit the Herald & Review (Decatur, Ill.) at www.herald-review.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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