Officials look toward future road projects
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain email@example.com April 29, 2013 9:00PM
Officials discuss Will County road needs after a meeting Monday morning called by the Transportation for Illinois Coalition at the Holiday Inn in Joliet. | Cindy Wojdyla Cain photo
Updated: June 1, 2013 6:47AM
Illinois Chamber of Commerce officials are about to draft a plan that could recommend higher driver’s license and license plate fees to fund road projects in the state.
The plan also might involve swapping a fixed-rate gas tax of 19 cents per gallon, which hasn’t changed since 1990, for a new gasoline sales tax that would produce more revenue if gas prices increase, Michael Kleinik, executive director of the Burr Ridge-based Laborers’ District Council, said.
Kleinik also serves as labor co-chair for the chamber’s Transportation for Illinois Coalition, a group that is lobbying for more funding to handle a backlog of transportation infrastructure projects plaguing the state.
Without new sources of revenue, the state’s road fund will drop from $3.5 billion this year to $1.5 billion by 2018, said Benjamin Brockschmidt, executive director for the chamber’s Infrastructure Council.
Also by 2018, the number of transportation projects will drop from 929 to 335 and transportation infrastructure construction jobs will fall from 45,000 to 20,000, Brockschmidt said.
While a plan to raise fees to fund road work might meet with resistance in some quarters, Brockschmidt said the chamber has to lobby for a well-funded, multi-year infrastructure plan to make the state competitive.
“We’re going big or we’re going home,” he said.
That’s why the chamber has partnered with business, labor and construction leaders to form the transportation council, which held a meeting Monday morning at the Holiday Inn in Joliet.
During the meeting, Brockschmidt asked about 70 people in attendance to talk about their area’s road, bridge, transit and rail needs.
Officials from Romeoville and Crest Hill lobbied for interchange work at Interstate 55 and Weber Road to ease a persistent bottleneck.
Eastern Will County leaders said they favor the proposed $1.3 billion Illiana Expressway, which would connect Interstate 55 in Will County with Interstate 65 in Indiana. They also lobbied for a streamlined way to use motor fuel tax funds. Currently, the system is slow and costs time and money, they said.
John Greuling, president and CEO of the Will County Chamber of Commerce, distributed a list of infrastructure projects that are in the planning stages in Will County that would cost $4.3 billion.
UPS sent eight representatives to the meeting. They all said how important the northeastern Illinois transportation system is to their business.
Mary Jo Theis, a UPS area sales manager, said a British company called AllSaints, which sells high-end clothing, was thinking of locating its distribution center in Memphis, Tenn. But UPS officials were able to convince the company to locate in Bolingbrook because of the area’s proximity to Interstates 55, 355 and 294, Theis said.
Theis acknowledged that the cost of doing business may mean higher license plate and gas taxes. If such fees are approved, Theis said, UPS would simply continue to find ways to operate more efficiently.
Kleinik said in addition to holding community meetings to learn about transportation needs, council members were meeting with leaders in Springfield, including Gov. Pat Quinn and House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, the council’s steering committee will meet again to begin to draft a funding plan for the state’s transportation infrastructure improvements. The council wants to act quickly before legislators begin to worry about how voters might react to higher fees, Kleinik said.
“If we don’t come up with something soon … we’re into an election cycle again.”