If you drive, it’s no surprise when you hit a pothole or notice some bridges don’t look as stable as they used to. It’s been nearly a decade since state leaders have agreed on a plan to pay for improvements.
While you see plenty of construction when driving on the roadways, these repairs are not always complete fixes.
“We put a Band-Aid on these things from time-to-time. Two or three inches of concrete or put a patch on here and there, it doesn’t solve the problem,” said Brad Bayles, field inspector for Labors Local 447.
It’s a quick fix more often than not because the money needed to repair or start over is nowhere in sight. Bridges are crumbling all over the country; nearly one in ten is labeled structurally deficient.
“You’ve got dilapidated concrete. If you’re going behind someone on the road that concrete chunk pops up, then what happens?” said John Kinney, a bridge superintendent, in Springfield.
IDOT says bridges are inspected regularly and the rate of inspection depends on the condition of the bridge, but why are repairs taking so long?
Some say lawmakers dropped the ball when they delayed talks of a new capital plan.
Senator Sam McCann (R) says most members wanted to deal with one crisis at a time, meaning pass a budget. The last capital plan was passed in 2009, which set aside $31 billion, but now that money has expired.
“Well, we haven’t even been able to get a budget on time in the last three years, so I think it’s ridiculous that people even keep talking about it because it’s obvious that the governor and the legislative leaders have not been able to work together,” said McCann.
The price tag to find a solution is likely to be high. According to a report by the Metropolitan Planning Agency, Illinois would need to spend about $43 billion over the next decade to rebuild and repair transportation.
“There’s underlying problems there underneath the bridge columns. If concrete falls off, you get a false sense that you’re safe,” said Bayles. “They’re going to have to figure something out before something seriously happens, like a catastrophe on one of these bridges.”
One idea to raise revenue is increasing the gas tax, but there’s no clear picture from lawmakers on just how much. In the last capital bill, things like gaming revenue and taxing services were included, but these did not raise enough money as some thought it would.
“The problem with all of those revenue sources is that none of them performed what we thought they were going to when we did the bill,” said John Lowder, of Transportation of Illinois Coalition.
Lowder says a better solution this time around would to use a pay-as-you-go approach instead of making estimates that sometimes don’t follow through.
“We’re not borrowing the money to build them, but were actually using the money that comes in every year that makes it more predictable.”
Until lawmakers agree on a plan, Bayles says it’s likely taxpayers could be paying more at the pump just to ensure people’s safety.
“A few pennies on gas can go along way to fix these bridges and roads for before something serious happens. I think that’s the message we need to get to these lawmakers.”
Right now, the gas tax in Illinois is 19-cents per gallon. Another option could be raising the cost for vehicle registration. However, after the recent income tax hike, not everyone supports a plan asking people to pay more. Officials estimate this plan to take several months.
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