Chicago Tribune (IL) - Friday, April 16, 2010
Author: Richard Wronski, Tribune reporter
A road construction season that's being called the biggest in state history -- $5 billion worth of work on 4,739 miles of highways and 763 bridges -- will get under way this spring, state officials said Thursday.
Although state and federal highway funds are becoming more scarce, the work will be made possible with billions of dollars of borrowed money coming from recently approved state public works programs intended to spur the economy and create jobs.
Projects to widen and resurface roads and rehabilitate bridges from Interstate Highway 94 at the Wisconsin border to Interstate Highway 80 in Will County have been put on a fast track to begin construction this year, officials said. About $3 billion worth of construction work has been the norm in recent years.
"This is going to be the biggest construction season in the history of the state. Next year may be bigger," state Transportation Secretary Gary Hannig said. "Roads have deteriorated. Those projects that are most needed are being addressed in this program."
Officials unveiled a new six-year, $12.8 billion road program that again leaves out new highways like the long-sought extension of state Highway 53 into Lake County or the Prairie Parkway in Kendall County. But the program includes funding for scores of projects that are no less anticipated.
Highways like LaGrange Road in south Cook County and Butterfield Road in DuPage would get additional lanes; new interchanges would be built on the Stevenson Expressway at Central Avenue and at Weber Road; and U.S. Highway 30 and Illinois Highway 7 in Will County would be widened.
Another project tackles the long-stalled bypass around the western edge of Algonquin in McHenry County. The $91.7 million project would alleviate traffic backups at the intersection of state Highway 31 and Algonquin Road.
Much of the work is long overdue because the state went more than a decade without a public works program, Hannig said.
Many of the projects, about $1.6 billion worth, have been accelerated into the 2010 construction season because of the availability of bond money, Hannig said.
The program counts on funding from $142 million in bonds from the state's small capital plan known as Jump Start, and $2.49 billion from the bigger Illinois Jobs Now bond program, both approved by the legislature last year.
The rest of the money comes from other federal, state and local sources.
Officials say the road program is expected to create 167,000 jobs over the next six years.
Aside from the bond money, Illinois' road program remains beset by serious funding challenges. The highway trust fund that provides federal dollars has been depleted and Congress had to add $8 billion in general revenue to keep it solvent.