Illinois roads, bridges and water systems remain poor, but state and federal funding offers optimism – Chicago Tribune

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The number of Illinois bridges in poor condition has increased over the past four years and a quarter of the state’s water pipes are lead-tainted, according to the Illinois Chapter’s latest infrastructure bulletin. of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

But despite the state’s third consecutive below-average C-minus overall rating in the quadrennial report, massive investments by state and federal governments led the authors to conclude that “fortunately, the future is bright.” “.

“This newsletter shows how appropriate and consistent funding can create more jobs, safer communities, and put more money back in taxpayers’ pockets,” said Andrew Walton, president of the engineering group’s Illinois chapter, at a press conference at Union Station. “These investments will also help Illinois capitalize on our geographic advantage, which in turn will create and foster growth for our state’s economy and citizens.”

The engineering group fills out similar report cards for 36 states, and Illinois was one of 15 to earn an overall grade of C-minus, with six other states earning D-plus or worse.

In 11 infrastructure categories, the state maintained or improved its ranking in all but one category, its drinking water score, which fell to a poor rating.

The report introduced a grade for stormwater infrastructure for the first time, giving Illinois a low grade due to its aging and undersized system.

The report found that 2,405 bridges in Illinois were in poor condition, compared to 2,303 bridges in the 2018 report. The analysis notes that 70% of Illinois bridges in poor condition are owned by municipalities and counties. counties, suggesting the need to address the local maintenance backlog.

Already underway, a $1.2 billion reconstruction of bridges and roads on a 12-13 mile stretch of Interstate 80, a few miles west of the Interstate 55 interchange, up to ‘at the Des Plaines River, the Illinois Secretary of Transportation said. Omar Osman. A project like this will raise the standards of several bridges and roads, extending their lifespan by “hundreds of years,” Osman said.

“Progress doesn’t happen overnight,” Osman said. “We are on the right path, not only to continue to improve infrastructure, but also to invest public resources where they do the most good.”

The number of state-maintained highways in excellent condition increased 5.2 percent in 2020 from the previous year, but 18.6 percent of highways were rated as poor, according to the report. Additionally, congestion around the Chicago area makes commutes about a third longer during peak hours.

The state’s water infrastructure remains one of the biggest problems. More than one million of the state’s 4 million drinking water pipes have been reported to contain levels of lead or lead solder, according to the report, one of the largest shares of lead service lines in the country.

“We have a lead problem, a lead service line problem,” said Patrick Lach, lead author of the report. “This is a major safety issue that concerns us with our citizens who have these lines of service.”

A federal investment of $288 million this year just to improve Illinois’ water infrastructure should help propel the state’s replacement of lead service lines, according to the report. This needs to be coupled with workforce development, especially for water treatment operators, he said.

Governor JB Pritzker’s “Rebuild Illinois” plan, an ongoing six-year, $45 billion effort to improve the state’s roads, bridges, rails and public buildings, as well as the allocation of the The state of the $1 trillion federal infrastructure plan, President Joe Biden signed into law in November, signals a “new era” for Illinois infrastructure, Walton said.

Rebuild Illinois, as of 2019, is investing $25.3 billion over six years to upgrade the state’s roads and bridges. This includes $561 million for the reconstruction of the Interstate 190 Kennedy Freeway near O’Hare and $25.4 million to improve the bridge under the old post office.

Illinois is also set to receive nearly $1.4 billion in federal funding over five years to upgrade its deteriorating bridges. That’s just part of the more than $17 billion projected total the state can expect for infrastructure improvements.

The earmarked investments ensure that money will continue to flow into state infrastructure for years to come, but experts have urged officials to look beyond current investments to assess how to ensure sustainable revenues to maintain the roads.

According to the report, fuel tax revenues are expected to fall, in the short term with Pritzker’s gas tax freeze for six months, as well as in the future as the auto industry turns to electric vehicles.

Despite the stagnant overall rating, State Sen. Don DeWitte, Republican for St. Charles and minority spokesman on the Senate Transportation Committee, said “the needle is rising.”

“These investments show positive progress in Illinois’ roads, bridges, air and rail systems, which not only bring these long-delayed improvements to safer states of good repair, but will sustain these infrastructure investments.” fundamentals for system expansion and upgrades. , to maintain Illinois’ status as the nation’s transportation hub,” DeWitte said.

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