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Gov. J.B. Pritzker releases $23.5 billion multiyear transportation plan for upcoming road projects throughout Illinois

Monday, October 21, 2019
Chicago Tribune
by Jamie Munks

Gov. J.B. Pritzker rolled out the details of a multibillion-dollar statewide transportation plan, only to be forced Monday to offer repeated assurances that state contracts and taxpayer spending will be closely scrutinized in light of a developing federal corruption probe.

Pritzker on Monday announced a plan for $23.5 billion worth of work on roads and bridges statewide over the next five years, a major piece of the $45 billion infrastructure plan that lawmakers widely cheered when it received bipartisan approval from the General Assembly this spring.

But concerns have cropped up in recent weeks since federal agents raided state Sen. Martin Sandoval’s Springfield office as part of a wide-ranging corruption probe. Sandoval, who was chairman of the powerful Senate Transportation Committee, was a key advocate for the infrastructure legislation.

The search warrant for Sandoval’s office at the statehouse showed that among the items authorities wanted were materials related to multiple unnamed Illinois Department of Transportation officials.

Pritzker voiced a “full-throated rejection” by his administration “of any of the deception, of the corruption that has been uncovered and may yet be uncovered.” The capital plan spending is receiving “an extra focus, an extra lens,” Pritzker said at a Monday news conference in Springfield.

“We are being extremely focused and careful to make sure every dollar that gets spent in this capital plan is done completely above board and done the right way and with taxpayers in mind,” Pritzker said.

No one has been charged in connection with the wide-ranging federal corruption investigation. A week after Sandoval’s office was raided, Pritzker publicly distanced the capital plan he signed into law this summer from Sandoval, calling for him to step down from the Transportation Committee chairmanship and pointing out that he pushed a different infrastructure bill that was “rejected.”

Sandoval, a Chicago Democrat, resigned as the committee’s chair a little more than a week later, amid a growing chorus of calls by his colleagues for him to step down.

State Comptroller Susana Mendoza said Monday her office will be looking at the capital plan spending as payments go out to ensure they’re in compliance with state laws.

Under the details of the plan announced Monday, the state’s Highway District 1, which includes Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties, will see more than $6.6 billion of investment in road and bridge work over the next five years. Among the key highway projects are an estimated $561 million in work on the Kennedy Expressway in Chicago and Rosemont, roughly $210 million of work around the Jane Byrne Interchange in Chicago and nearly $119 million for railroad grade separation on Illinois 43 in Bedford Park, according to IDOT.

Interstate 80 will undergo 16 miles of reconstruction in and around Joliet, with bridge reconstructions and the construction of two new bridges over the Des Plaines River. The I-80 work is expected to cost $1.2 billion. Interstate 55 in Will County will see interchange construction, resurfacing and reconstruction.

In the northwest suburbs, U.S. 20 in Elgin will see nearly $110 million in improvements including bridge repairs and other safety upgrades, while roughly $111 million in improvements are planned for the Illinois 47 corridor in McHenry County.

Statewide, the projects tackle more than 4,200 miles of roadway.

The plan Pritzker outlined includes $3.76 billion in highway projects during the 2020 fiscal year, and marks a new strategy for maintaining infrastructure in the state.

“This is a big change from how previous capital programs have done this in the past, when the state would let roads and bridges deteriorate so thoroughly that repairs have cost taxpayers far more than if they’d been maintained to a minimum standard,” Pritzker said. “Instead, we are embarking on a new regimen of investing on the front end. This is a historic improvement which will save taxpayers potentially billions of dollars over the long run.”

The capital legislation received bipartisan support in the General Assembly, and Pritzker was flanked Monday by Republican and Democratic lawmakers to roll out the plan.

Sen. Andy Manar, a downstate Democrat, one of the sponsors of the capital legislation, called the package a “cooperative effort” between Democrats and Republicans, and business and labor.

“There aren’t too many things that happen like that in state government,” Manar said. “But this is a big one. This is a big one.”

The statewide infrastructure plan, coined “Rebuild Illinois,” provides for a range of projects in addition to highway and bridge work, including public university facility upgrades, expanding high-speed broadband internet and dog parks.

The plan will put thousands of people to work, and will help “every part of our state’s economy,” Manar said.

Republican Sen. Don DeWitte, of St. Charles, said for years state leaders have allowed “critical infrastructure to crumble.”

“This capital plan is going to do exactly what its name promises to do — it will rebuild Illinois,” DeWitte said.

The infrastructure spending plan is being fueled in part by gas and cigarette tax hikes, as well as increased license plate fees. The motor fuel tax doubled to 38 cents per gallon and will be indexed to future inflation increases. Municipalities in Cook County were authorized to levy a separate 3-cents-per-gallon motor fuel tax, while the collar counties were permitted to raise their taxes on motor fuel up to 8 cents per gallon.

Rather than using a “worst-first” approach, the plan aims to “determine interim repairs to extend the life cycles of the state’s key roads and bridges.” Among the factors IDOT used in evaluating the projects to be included in the plan are pavement condition, crash history, average daily traffic and bridge condition.

Other planned projects in Cook County include $25 million for bridge improvements under the Old Post Office in Chicago, $92 million to rebuild the 95th Street intersection at Stony Island Avenue and more than $19 million for reconstruction and widening Barrington Road from south of Algonquin Road to Central Road.

IDOT Acting Secretary Omer Osman said of roughly three decades at the agency, “today might be the most important day.”

The new plan “gets us on the path to fixing our roads and bridges, putting policies into action that ensure our transportation system in Illinois is reliable, safe and provides economic opportunity for generations to come,” Osman said.

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