Updated: 4/1/13 at 4:12, after the meeting took place.
Transportation advocates say that by 2018, 1 out of every 3 miles of roads in Illinois will be of unacceptable condition, unless there are new sources of revenue. The Transportation for Illinois Coalition held a meeting with business leaders and state lawmakers in O’Fallon Monday to discuss what can be done.
Cars are becoming more fuel efficient – it’s good for drivers, who get to save more money, and it’s better for the environment. What it isn’t good for, however, is transportation funding.
One of the big revenue sources for building and improving roads is the fuel tax. When people go to the pump less often, that means less money for transportation.
Jennifer Morrison, the director of the Transportation for Illinois Coalition, says her group is considering a fuel tax increase initiative.
“It would also be worthwhile to allow for some sort of inflationary adjustments over time," Morrison said. "So maybe we don’t increase the rate, but we allow for inflationary increases.”
While the groups pointed to a list of priorities, Illinois state lawmakers made it clear that transportation has taken a backseat to another issue: the $100 billion of pension debt that the state is plagued with.
“It is a difficult time, for sure for the state of Illinois right now because the pension problem is so overwhelming," Morrison admitted. "So to bring up transportation on top of it, it is a challenge, but it’s important that we do it.”
On the topic of the fuel tax, Republican state Senator Dave Luechtefeld pointed out, however, that Illinois already competes with states with lower fuel taxes – Missouri being one of them.
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On Monday morning, construction groups, public officials and business leaders will gather in the Metro East to discuss improving the region’s transportation infrastructure.
Ellen Krohne, executive director of the Leadership Council of Southwestern Illinois, says a key goal of the event will be fostering cooperation between agencies on both sides of the Mississippi River.
“I think that the cooperation that was shown as we came up with a unique way that we did the Poplar Street Bridge, Missouri Interchange and the Martin Luther King Connection,” Krohne says. ‘I think we worked really well together, and I think that we have lots of potential to continue to do that.”
She says strengthening infrastructure near the Mississippi River could spur further economic development growth.
“There’s some a really good, high level of activity in shipping out of the river now, more so than we’ve seen before that,” Krohne says. “Some of that new development has been really impactful, so, I think there are some really good things underway.”
Krohne says that officials would like to bolster public-private partnerships similar to those used to fund railroad projects as a way to pay for future transportation upgrades.
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