Despite higher taxes, Illinois roads worsen

2013-06-20T21:15:00Z 2013-06-20T23:38:13Z Despite higher taxes, Illinois roads worsenKurt Erickson Lee Springfield Bureau nwitimes.com
June 20, 2013 9:15 pm  • 

SPRINGFIELD | It’s been nearly four years since Gov. Pat Quinn approved a series of tax hikes to pay for a $31 billion statewide construction program, but the condition of the state’s roadways has actually worsened.

According to numbers provided by state transportation officials, the percent of roads in need of repair has gone from 10.8 percent in 2010 to 15 percent in 2012.

The new figures, included in a report issued this week by Illinois Auditor General Bill Holland, were released a month after a separate audit showed that less than half of the money in the state’s road fund actually went to paying for road construction costs.

The findings of that earlier audit angered downstate lawmakers, who said money that is supposed to rebuild roads should not be used, for example, to pay health insurance benefits for employees in other state agencies.

IDOT spokeswoman Paris Ervin said the uptick in bumpy highways is because the agency has been paying more attention to fixing bridges.

“Our records show about 8 percent of bridges in need of repair,” Ervin noted in an email. “Without the capital program, we could not have repaired the 1,138 bridges since June 2009.”

According to the department, about one in 12 bridges in Illinois are in need of repair, compared to the national average cited in a recent report of one in 9 bridges in need of repair.

“Governor Quinn has made investing in bridges a key priority for Illinois,” Ervin noted.

The sharper focus on bridges comes as Illinoisans have been paying higher driver’s license and license plate fees, higher taxes on alcohol, candy, soft drinks and beauty products in order to finance the construction program.

A portion of the proceeds of video gambling also helps pay for construction projects, which include work at schools, universities and other public facilities.

Since the program — known as Illinois Jobs Now — got under way in 2009, Ervin said IDOT has awarded 5,593 projects worth $13.2 billion, creating and supporting 170,000 jobs which includes improvements to 7,109 miles of roadways and repairing or rebuilding 1,138 state and local bridges.

“We are proud of what we have been able to accomplish through Illinois Jobs Now,” Ervin said.

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