Editorials

Since when does 'transportation enhancement' include 'economic development'?

Fairview Heights leaders in 2015 decided to mow it all down after spending $850,000 for landscaping on the Illinois 159 interchange on Interstate 64. The funds were part of a grant for highway beautification.
Fairview Heights leaders in 2015 decided to mow it all down after spending $850,000 for landscaping on the Illinois 159 interchange on Interstate 64. The funds were part of a grant for highway beautification. BND

The Illinois Department of Transportation recently handed out $35.7 million, including $3.4 million to local communities as part of its Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program. The wonks call it ITEP. It seems more of a MISSTEP.

The state is following federal guidelines, but some of the guidelines are just goofy. The whole thing seems like it suffers from mission creep, starting as a way to enhance transportation and arriving as a way to spend taxes on things that have little to do with getting from Point A to Point B.

Here's the current program mission: "The goal of ITEP is to allocate resources to well-planned projects that provide and support alternate modes of transportation, enhance the transportation system through preservation of visual and cultural resources and improve the quality of life for members of the communities."

Maybe that includes free ice cream for people on the side of the road. That would improve most folks' quality of life.

Almost as tangential is creating streetscapes. Highland's getting $1.2 million, Columbia $600K, Wood River $400K and Millstadt $245K for beautification of commercial districts.

Those projects are great, and it is smart to reinvest in retail areas, but they are economic development projects. You can only call them "transportation enhancements" by applying a liberal dose of pretzel logic.

Beautification along transportation routes is another program goal. That is how we got the $850,000 in dead trees at the Illinois 159 and Interstate 64 interchange in Fairview Heights.

At least there's some transportation involved in building bike trails with these funds. Using them to create pretty scenery is only valuable if it distracts you from the fact that you just hit a pothole.

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