Guest view: We have to invest in state highways

April 22, 2014 

I appreciate your interest in our coalition's efforts to invest in our transportation infrastructure in Illinois and want to respond to your criticism of our call for a meaningful way to fund much-needed investment in our roads, bridges and transit systems.

The Transportation for Illinois Coalition represents business, labor, construction and government transportation groups committed to improving our state's transportation infrastructure. TFIC Co-chair Mike Kleinik and I, on behalf of the coalition, like your readers, know how important it is to have vital infrastructure in good condition because we all depend upon it every day.

Our plan addresses your concerns about the way our transportation dollars are spent. The majority of our proposed revenues come from recapturing existing taxes and fees on motorists that currently do not go to transportation. Recapturing money from the state sales tax on gasoline for transportation, as we have proposed, is a good example of our commitment to reclaiming existing revenues before looking at new ones.

The four-cent gas tax was a small part of the $1.8 billion plan and represents a modest increase in the state's motor fuel tax that was last raised 23 years ago. We understand no one wants to pay more at the pump. We do not want that either. But it is reasonable to expect users to sustain the system they we rely upon.

User fees are a fair and practical funding source for transportation infrastructure. It ensures that those who drive more -- and therefore place more wear on our infrastructure -- would pay more. Thanks to greater fuel efficiency and no motor fuel tax increases, today's motorists contribute much less to support highway construction than in prior decades.

We cannot let our transportation networks deteriorate and become our next crushing problem like pensions and education. We need a better way forward that assures a reliable, predictable and stable funding stream to support our mobility and prosperity. We must accept the responsibility to be good stewards of our present and future transportation needs, and that time is now.

Doug Whitley, president and CEO of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, is a co-chair of the Transportation for Illinois Coalition.

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