OVERWHELMING bipartisan passage of a $1 billion capital bill in the waning days of the spring session of the Illinois General Assembly to fund vital road and bridge projects across the state demonstrated what purposeful, cooperative efforts among regional and statewide elected officials can achieve.
The governor's office, the majority and minority leaders in both the House and Senate, the rank-and-file members in both chambers and representatives of the Illinois Department of Transportation came together in an impressive display of unity in the last week of the sometimes contentious legislative session to provide the necessary support for this much-needed measure.
A priority of Gov. Pat Quinn, the capital construction program was resoundingly approved 97-11 in the House and 52-5 in the Senate. The governor lobbied hard to persuade legislators to help bridge the gap between the current capital plan that is about to expire and the next long-range program which will be necessary to fund other projects that cannot be paid for with existing revenue.
Quinn signed the Illinois Jobs Now capital construction program weeks after taking office in 2009. The six-year, $31 billion statewide initiative was the first of its kind in nearly a decade, and Quinn's office says it has been used to fix thousands of miles of roads, update transit systems and put thousands of people to work.
This new capital plan will immediately build on those successes because of the efforts by Quinn and many others.
Addressing critical transportation infrastructure needs was among the chief priorities of Senate President John Cullerton. He steadfastly worked alongside Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, to keep the measure at the forefront of discussions among colleagues when support appeared to lag earlier this spring. Once Speaker Michael Madigan announced the plan had his backing, it passed the House in a matter of hours.
Likewise, Republican leaders in the House and Senate -- Jim Durkin and Christine Radogno -- put aside election year politics and recognized the importance of investing in the state's infrastructure. A majority of their caucuses -- including Reps. Jil Tracy of Quincy, Norine Hammond of Macomb and Don Moffitt of Gilson -- agreed. GOP gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner also was supportive after being swayed by the reasoning of Durkin and Radogno.
Furthermore, Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider played a crucial role in last-minute negotiations by assuring legislators the focus would be on "shovel ready" projects already identified in IDOT's five-year plan that could be undertaken quickly. Importantly, the program will be paid for by money still being generated as a result of repayment of bonds in the current capital plan, meaning no additional fees or revenue will be required.
The impact will be significant for West-Central Illinois.
Funding will now be made available to pave two lanes of the critically important Macomb bypass. The 6.7-mile project will connect Ill. 336 at the west edge of the city to U.S. 67 to the north. The bypass received $70 million from the 2009 Jobs Now capital program and dirt work began last year, but no money remained for paving.
IDOT officials and regional transportation leaders agreed to pursue the two-lane paving project at an additional cost of $32.5 million to $34 million to accelerate the use of the bypass, with the promise that the other two lanes will be paved when additional money becomes available.
The bypass has long been a regional transportation priority because it will move trucks and other traffic along the 532-mile route off Macomb streets and partially complete the last piece of the Chicago-Kansas City Expressway that was first envisioned in the 1950s.
Paving of the two lanes clears the way for a national marketing campaign for the corridor, a $3.75 billion asset with unlimited potential to grow the economy of C-KC communities in the region.
The collaborative spirit and forward thinking exemplified by the governor, Illinois lawmakers, legislative leaders and IDOT officials will soon make this vital national transportation corridor one step closer to becoming a reality in Illinois and Missouri.
This type of cooperation going forward would greatly enhance Illinois' chances of solving its many challenging problems.