O'FALLON — The state's surmounting debt is blocking the way for many transportation projects, lawmakers and building advocates said Monday.
The Transportation for Illinois Coalition is visiting communities across the state and hosting meetings to discuss the need for new funding for road projects from Springfield. The coalition of business, labor and builders is trying to find new sources of revenue to upgrade and repair the state's aging roads, bridges, rails and transit systems.
Jennifer Morrison, managing director of Transportation for Illinois Coalition, said the purchasing power of the state's motor-fuel tax continues to fall as the rate of inflation increases, consumers drive less because gas prices are higher and more drivers have more fuel-efficient vehicles.
"Revenues are decreasing," Morrison said. "It is a systemic problem that we're going to have to do something about."
Bruce Holland, president of Holland Construction Services in Swansea, said the metro-east has a list of transportation projects that are imperative to region's economic growth. The list includes $25 million still needed for a new overpass along Illinois 3 over the Alton & Southern Railroad. Another is an interchange at Interstate 255 at the Davis Street Ferry in St. Clair County that has received $19.5 million from the Illinois Department of Transportation but still needs local matching funds.
"We need to look at all that we can to improve transportation through St. Louis," Holland said.
"We know if we don't start allocating funds for that now, it will be difficult. It will take a long time."
Sen. Dave Leuchtefeld, R-Okawville, said he is not sure another capital plan will provide the funding needed. He said the current focus in Springfield has been directed to funding state pensions. He said the state's fiscal shape is as bad as he has ever seen it.
"The state is probably in worse shape that you know," Leuchtefeld said.
"Whether or not we are able to deal with pension reform this year, I don't know. It gets pushed off each year."
Leuchtefeld also said the state's unfunded pension liability totals about $100 billion. The most aggressive bill to date would account for only $28 billion of that.
"If you pass that bill, you're just pushing it back," he said.
Leuchtefeld also said that he believes that after recent failed attempts, a bill calling for expanded gaming will pass the General Assembly and get the governor's signature this year. However, he said that would only generate very little revenue -- about $1 billion to $1.5 billion.
"It's not a whole lot," he said. "That will alleviate some problems, but I don't think that will solve your problems."
Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton, said the state's pension problem will be dealt with by the end of the current legislative session, but does not believe lawmakers have given the state's infrastructure the attention it needs.
"I don't feel that this has really been negotiated," Costello said. "The unions have not had a seat at the table."
Both Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, and Leuchtefeld agreed.
Said Leuchtefeld, "The thing that scares me in your industry is that this is not being talked about."
"It doesn't seem like we are sitting down as a group," Meier said.
Meier, who was elected to office last November, said he recently witnessed a major construction project that was awarded to Missouri over Illinois because of the Land of Lincoln's reputation of being unfriendly to businesses.
"Our image is that Illinois is not out here to help any businesses in this state," Meier said. "We have to fix these issues. We can't keep losing out to Missouri."
Contact reporter Will Buss at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2526.