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Illinois must address infrastructure

Published: Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST

As you return to work today, try to open your holiday weekend-weary eyes a little wider and pay attention to the road.

No, this is not a safety message, although it isn’t a bad side note.

This is about the road, the actual physical gravel and asphalt path carrying you back to the work week. The stuff they call infrastructure.

How is it?

Chances are the answer is bumpy, lumpy and crumbly. Despite the sometimes best efforts of villages and cities, road repairs don’t come cheap and many other things take priority.

It just becomes a part of the driver psyche, though, and it’s hardly even noticed after a while that things are shaking and quaking all the way from Point A to Point B.

It’s becoming more and more apparent on state-maintained roads. Years of shifting funds and the hustle and bustle of inactivity over pension reform have pushed road and bridge repairs to the side.

The state does spend money on roads – $1.3 billion a year on average. But rising costs of materials and labor means money doesn’t go as far as it once did. It’s certainly not enough to do what should be done.

The group Transportation for Illinois Coalition cautions that without more of an investment, one out of every 10 bridges and one in every three miles of roads will be unacceptable for use within five years.

It’s about time someone stirred the pot and brought this issue to the front of the discussion line, although we have to part company with the coalition when it calls for replacing the existing motor fuel tax – the source of money for much of the road work done – with a 9.5 percent tax on fuel.

Motorists are already beaten down with the roller coaster ride of rising and falling gasoline prices without any real explanation. A summer of $3.50 a gallon and up prices have emptied a lot of pocketbooks and will make it hard to find a lot of supporters for such a tax. That’s especially true in west-central and Southwestern Illinois, where cheaper gasoline is a short drive across the border away.

At the same time, the motor vehicle fuel tax is no longer as viable a resource as it was when put into place decades ago. Fuel-efficient cars and shorter trips have meant the 19 cents a gallon charge doesn’t go as far.

Something has to be done, though, to strike a balance between keeping the roads and bridges safe for travel and leaving motorists with enough money to use them.

The (Alton) Telegraph

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