Editorials

At a crossroads

Transportation is the lifeblood of Illinois and the asset that distinguishes us from the rest of the country.

Our roads, transit systems, railroads and airports make Illinois the transportation hub of North America and provide us with the global economic advantage that other states can only dream to have. We are indebted to previous generations for the vision that made this impressive network possible, as well as other top-notch state facilities and buildings, such parks and schools.

But we are at a crossroads. Our infrastructure is aging. Do we allow the situation to worsen? Or do we begin to chart a new path moving forward?

Over the next month, the Illinois Department of Transportation, in conjunction with the Illinois Capital Development Board, will be holding a series of informal meetings throughout the state to talk about these issues and learn more about what the public needs and expects from us. You can find a list of dates and locations at www.idot.illinois.gov. Please check back often for updates.

These meetings are intended to be a listening tour for me, my team, and other state officials, sparking discussion that ultimately leads to a package of recommendations that can be presented to Gov. Bruce Rauner and the General Assembly for consideration this spring.

What I do not want to happen is a debate about the merits of this or that particular project, but rather a focused conversation that establishes priorities for future investment, emphasizing quality of life and economic growth.

What I have learned in my three months leading IDOT is that inaction will not be a good option and only cost us more in the long run. A lot is at stake.

  • Without renewed investment over the next six years, 40 percent of Illinois highways and one in seven bridges will be in unacceptable condition. In order to reach an acceptable standard, almost $7 billion is needed. That doesn’t take into account any investments needed to modernize and expand our system.
  • The transit network’s bus and rail system will not be adequately overhauled, leading to less reliable and underutilized service. School and other key state construction projects will continue to lag behind and fall into disrepair.
  • In just the Chicago area alone, congestion is estimated to be responsible for an $8.9 billion loss in business productivity. With the economy still recovering, that number is poised to grow.

Past capital programs have in some ways contributed to the current situation. These one-time infusions of new revenue have led to these boom-or-bust cycles: short-term fixes followed by extended periods during which our backlogged needs accumulate.

Our mission over these next few weeks is to engage you and your local leaders to help us build the groundwork for a realistic, sustainable plan for bringing our infrastructure into the 21st century.

Strategic investments based on needs and solutions, as proposed by the residents of Illinois. That is our mission.

At IDOT, and throughout the state’s other infrastructure agencies, we have set an ambitious schedule to accomplish it, but I believe there is an urgency that demands action now.

I look forward to working together as we meet these goals.

Randy Blankenhorn is acting Illinois Transportation secretary.

Want to go?

Mount Vernon

When: 10:30 a.m. Monday, May 4

Where: Mount Vernon City Hall, 1100 Main St.

Collinsville

When: 9 a.m. Tuesday, May 5

Where: Gateway Convention Center, 1 Gateway Drive

Carbondale

When: 1 p.m. Tuesday, May 5

Where: Carbondale Civic Center, 200 S. Illinois Ave.

Godfrey

When: 2 p.m. Tuesday, May 5

Where: Lewis & Clark Community College, (Advance Technology Center) Trimpe Building, 5800 Godfrey Road

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